Whilst New Year’s resolutions are a tradition for many, some may think that young students are not old enough to participate – but in fact setting goals with your children or pupils can be an extremely valuable exercise. Not only does it help children practice self-discipline, introduce a sense of structure into their learning, and galvanise their enthusiasm for education, it’s also a fun way to kick off the school term in January. Here are some of our top tips for making 2019 New Year’s resolutions.
Approaching a New Year’s resolution should be a bit like planning any other goal or activity: it needs to start with a sensible plan. We find the SMART guidelines to be useful, here: specific; measurable; attainable; results-oriented; and time-bound.
Setting specific goals (S): Make sure the resolution includes details of what needs to be achieved, by when, and how it will be done, i.e.: ‘I will improve my reading skills by reading one new extra-curricular book a month.’
Setting measurable goals (M): Try and check in regularly to ensure that the resolution is being stuck to, or make sure your child keeps a record of their progress over time (perhaps with a chart or by making entries in a journal, i.e.: ‘During week one I read 50 pages; during week two I read 30 pages’ etc.).
Setting attainable goals (A): You can really help your child or pupil to achieve their goal by ensuring that it is challenging but not overly ambitious.
Setting results-oriented goals (R): Make sure that there is a target – for example, the ‘reading skills’ goal mentioned above could also be tied to a wider resolution (something like ‘achieving an A* in English GCSE by broadening knowledge of literature generally.’).
Setting time-specific goals (T): Help your child or student to set an appropriate (and manageable) time-frame for their resolution, so that they feel motivated and full of purpose, i.e. ‘I will improve my reading skills by the end of term by reading one new extra-curricular book a month.’
Avoid negative language: Rather than encouraging your child or pupil to set goals based on things that didn’t go so well in 2018, focus on the positives. If they struggled with maths, for example, don’t approach the task of goal-setting by saying ‘I didn’t get good grades in maths last year, so this year I will study with a maths tutor for at least an hour per week.’
Instead, put a positive spin on the idea by phrasing the goal with upbeat language, i.e. ‘I am going to study with a maths tutor for at least an hour a week so that I achieve at least a B grade in my end-of-term mathematics test’; or, ‘I am going to study with a maths tutor for at least an hour a week so that I can join in more actively with class discussion.’ Visualising the outcomes of their hard work will enthuse your children or students and make them more likely to stick to their resolutions.
Give your children freedom: You may have quite strong ideas about where your child or pupil needs to focus their energies in order to improve – whether that’s scholastically, socially, or in terms of extra-curricular activities – but it’s important to let your children make the final decision as to what their resolutions should be. Feel free to make suggestions, but don’t put any pressure on them: if they don’t feel they have ownership over their goals, they’re less likely to work at them.
Join in: Make the exercise feel like a team effort – and increase motivation – by setting your own goals alongside. There are a variety of ways by which to do this; if we return to the ‘reading skills’ goal, for example, you could set aside dedicated reading time in which you and your child or student sit down together and read, or set yourself a similar goal (e.g. ‘I’d also like to broaden my knowledge of literature, so I’ll commit to reading at least one new book a month, too.’).
Never nag! One resolution all parents and teachers could probably set themselves is to avoid nagging, though it’s often very hard to stick to! Whilst it’s important to check in with your child or pupil regularly regarding their goals or resolutions, there’s a big difference between showing interest in their progress – and, if necessary, providing gentle reminders – and nagging them to try harder. You will know the kind of language that works best with the child in question, so do phrase your queries carefully and try to be as encouraging – and non-pressuring – as possible.