Make new year's resolutions a lesson in goal setting for your kids (and you!)

'Tis the season for setting goals for ourselves for the new year.  With the start of a new day, week and of course year,  it seems that we are all inspired to make a fresh start and do better.  Writing new year's resolutions with our kids can be a great chance to practice goal setting.

When your daughter sits down for her first job interview, the probability of hearing one of these questions is close to 100%: "What are your career goals?  What are your short term goals?  What are your long term goals?  Why did you apply to this company?"

Interviewers want to see that your child has given some thought to their future and that they have an idea about what they want to achieve.  Since most new grads have very little actual work experience the answers to these questions are expected to be vague and general but they will give the interviewer insights into how your son or daughter thinks about their future career.

Of course there are many bad answers to these questions:

"I want to be Head of Marketing in 2 years after you teach me everything you know."
"I don't know.  What do you think I should do?"
"I really want to be involved in the entertainment industry." (when applying for a job at an insurance company)

Goal setting will be valuable when applying to college as well.  A typical entrance interview will likely have similar questions: Why did you choose this major? Why did you choose this college? What are your career plans?  The more precise and thought out the answers the more mature your child will appear to the interviewer.

Traditionally, a good goal should be written, challenging, believable, specific, measurable and have a deadline.  I would add, especially for young kids, it should be something they are motivated to achieve. When my son was 7 years old, his resolution for the coming year was to learn to curve the soccer ball.  I thought this was a great goal for him.  Not only was it achievable, but it would bring additional rewards in the form of more scoring opportunities when he plays with his friends.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has an interesting list of suggested resolutions for kids ages 5 to 12.
  • I will drink milk and water 3 times each day and limit soda and fruit drinks to once a day.
  • I will apply sunscreen before I go outdoors on bright sunny days.
  • I will try to find a sport or an activity that I liked and do it at least 3 times a week.
  • I will always wear a helmet when bicycling.
  • I will wear my seat belt every time I get in a car.
  • I will be nice to other kids.  I'll be friendly to kids who need friends.
  • I'll never give out personal information such as my name, address or telephone number on the Internet.
Obviously, being pediatricians, there is a focus on health.  The nice thing about these resolutions is that they are all things our kids should be doing anyway. In the context of setting resolutions with the family your son or daughter will have a chance to commit to them on their own rather than just being told to do them.  However, I think it is also good to let our children come up with their own goals and resolutions.  Most experts will advise that with young children you should keep the resolutions simple and easily achievable.  The main purpose is to help your child develop a habit of goal-setting and thinking about what they want in the future.

When my wife and I sat down to go through this exercise with my 9 year old son and 2 year old daughter, here are the resolutions they came up with:

9 year old:
"I want to be able to lift the soccer ball 15 times in a row"
"I want to complete Donkey Kong 2 on Wii."
"I want to control my temper when playing games with others."
"I want to get better at typing."

2 year old:
"I want to be a princess on Halloween." (again?)
"I want a pink flower."

Sit down with the whole family to work on resolutions.  This is an opportunity to talk about what we as parents want as well as all of us as a family.  I think there are benefits for our kids to hear that Mom and Dad have challenges to face in the coming year and that is it not just the children who need to do well in school or remember to clear their place at the table after dinner every night.

An additional benefit to preparing new year's resolutions as a family is that everyone now knows that Mom and Dad are going to try to exercise more and our kids may help us to stick to it.

It would be great to hear back from you about resolutions your own kids come up with.  Please let me know.