New Year New Approach
By Dr. Kristi Smith, D.Ed., M.Ed.   •   January 3, 2023

The beginning of a New Year is a time where most adults are making resolutions and goals that will guide their behavior and decisions in the New Year. It is a time of assessing past choices and future goals to make adjustments in your current reality.

For young children, the idea of a “New Year” is not something that is tangible and easily understood. They do not have a yearlong calendar what manages their views of time and accomplishments. While children do not understand to the same degree the change and newness that adults automatically apply to the beginning of a new year, a new year does provide a great time for families to evaluate and modify current systems and strategies for a successful new year.

Two ideas you can try with your family and young children this year to help focus in on what is important would be a family word or words for the year as well as helping young ones set a goal.

Word(s) for the Year - The idea of a word or words for the New Year is to choose a word(s) that have meaning to your family and will provide a sort of filter for the way your family views situations and guides discussions. For instance, if your family word for the new year is “Kindness,” then that word is something you can put up in the house, identify acts of kindness you see in everyday life, and have conversations around how we can show kindness to others. Whatever the word, think of something that hits home with your current child and family. If I knew that my child was struggling with fear and separation anxiety, maybe my family word might be “Courage.” Not only would we be able to help support my child in conversations as they tackle their fear and stake steps forward in the new year, it could also give me a chance to grow along side my child as I identify areas in my adult life I could be more courageous in as well. No matter the words, the idea is to have a simple focus to guide your year and conversations. This is especially useful for younger kids to have a goal/focus in a very simplistic one-word form they can understand.

SMART Goal - The idea of a goal for the year is not a new idea, but can be a valuable tool in addressing growth for your older child. In order for a goal to be successful, especially for children, it needs to be a more tangible SMART goal. SMART goals stand for a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound. Many times adults might say their New Year’s resolution might be losing weight or saving money. This goal is very generic and broad without much intent or planning behind it. There is a reason most adults give up on their New Year’s resolution soon in about 1 month.

For children, the idea would be to help them identify their own goal and narrow it in a way that is SMART and obtainable. If you ask an elementary age child what their goal is you might get told “to be popular.” This is a great opportunity to have a conversation and help them create a goal that is meaningful, beneficial, but still in line with what they said. A parent could guide the conversation to turn “being popular” into a goal about “I will make new friends by sitting with one person I normally do not sit with at lunch each week.” This type of goal stems from the child’s desire but gives them an plan of action and a way to look back and measure if “sitting with new people each week” ultimately helped widen their friend pool after a few weeks/months.

Chances are that your children as they grow up will join the millions of people each year who use the New Year to adjust their life and goals. Starting with them young allows for rich family discussions and building a foundation of self-improvement that could continue with them as they grow!

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