The Scientifically Proven Way To Get Your Kid To Set (And Smash) Their Goals

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The following was produced in partnership with our friends at New York Life, who are committed to helping families make resolutions in 2017 that keep everybody happy, healthy, and good at life.

As a parent, you might brush off New Year’s resolutions. After all, when it comes to “New year, new you,” a kid is basically all the “new you,” you need. But you shouldn’t dismiss the idea of resolutions just yet, and here’s why: they’re not just about you. Making (and sticking to) these annual promises can be even better for kids than adults. In fact, it’s been studied and proven that children as young as 3 or 4 years old can start building that solid foundation of good habits and values that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

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Research suggests more New Year’s resolvers succeed than you’d think — between 40 percent and 46 percent reach their goal by 6 months. So whether your kid has yet to start or has sputtered out of the gate, it’s never too late to work with them on setting and achieving goals.

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The man behind that research is John Norcross, a professor, psychologist, and author of Changeology: 5 Steps To Realizing Your Goals And Resolutions. He’s been a Pennsylvania Professor Of The Year and received the Distinguished Contributions To Education & Training Award from the American Psychological Association. In other words, he knows a bit about molding young minds. And he’s tested his hypotheses on own kids and grandkids.

Norcross believes resolutions help kick-start good habits and behaviors and also benefit kids’ development by helping to build their locus of control – psych-speak for the belief that they can exert control over the outcome of events in their lives. If you like the sound of that, and also believe goal-setting, problem-solving, helpfulness, responsibility, decision-making, patience, resilience, and commitment are important life skills, read on:

Set Them Up For Success

Your kid’s resolution should be challenging but achievable within a reasonable time frame. For preschoolers and younger kids (and their attention spans), stick with tangible, short-term goals like shoe-tying or bed-making. Kids older than 8 need more complex goals that won’t seem trivial, like saving for a Tesla (yeah, toys are way cooler now). Each way offers an opportunity for a bigger developmental payoff. Resolving to tutor their sibling teaches helpfulness. Volunteering once a week with less fortunate kids builds empathy. Learning to change a tire teaches responsibility — and is something their self-driving cars won’t do.

Have Kids Play The Role Of Parent

Kids learn by observation (they can already do a pretty spot-on impression of you), so it’s on parents to model responsible behavior and values. After you make your own resolution, task your kids to hold you accountable. This shows them that you don’t (completely) control their lives, and it establishes the home as a place where inclusivity, open communication, honesty, and integrity happen. “Kids believe they can’t give their parents much,” says Norcross. “This is a way to teach them they can.”

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Seek The Prize But Reward The Journey

The key to success is to start gradually and build on small wins. Kids need to hear that everyday perfection is unrealistic but baby steps add up to major accomplishments. This teaches them the importance of planning ahead, problem-solving, and delayed gratification. These are critical executive functions linked to performance in reading, math, and the rest of life.

One great way to illustrate this is the concept of saving. “If your kid wants to buy an Xbox, the goal isn’t the Xbox but small weekly savings,” says Norcross. Gradually, they’ll learn those singles become twenties, which become hundreds, which become you and them playing Rocket League together. You can also use these opportunities to teach them the value of a dollar. How does turning the lights off when they leave a room get them closer to their goal? Well, for every dollar saved on the electric bill, add a dollar to their weekly savings. (Then get a high-efficiency power strip for those all-night gaming sessions.)

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Kids hate the idea of delayed gratification, so Norcross recommends letting them reward themselves a bit in the short-term to avoid derailing long-term goals. Make family dinner a time to discuss progress. Still on track? Cookies for all! If they need more incentive, contingency contracts work, too. “My son loved room service, so I said, ‘Do these chores for an entire week and I’ll serve you breakfast in bed.’” (Sounds like a good deal, John — do you deliver?)

Allow Failure To Be Part Of Success

While grown-up you has experienced failure and setbacks, your kid doesn’t have much experience in that department. This makes it easy for them to want to give up the moment they slip up. Make their missteps teachable moments for these 3 lessons: every day is a new opportunity to succeed, setbacks are part of the process, and one mistake doesn’t mean failure as long as you keep pursuing your goal.

Rewards

“The research is clear — if given moderate doses of failure and allowed to suffer occasional challenges and frustrations, kids develop a capacity for resilience,” says Norcross. So if you don’t let your kids play Super Mario Run today, tell them playing tomorrow will be that much better. Besides, those mushroom kingdom coins don’t have any street value.

Don’t Put Off Until Next Year What You Can Start Today

The most important thing to keep in mind is that any time is a good time to help your kids make resolutions. They can be an incredibly effective (and even fun) way to lay valuable foundations of good habits, skills, and values that will serve them for the rest of their lives — not just the first few months of the year.

This article was produced in partnership with our friends at New York Life, who are committed to helping families make resolutions in 2017 that keep everybody happy, healthy, and good at life. For more, check out their recent survey, which shows how Americans are are planning for this year and beyond

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