Educators have long known that we really have two New Years. We are lucky in this way- we get to start a new calendar year in January complete with reflections of the year gone by and predictions for the year to come, and we start a school year in September excited by the hopes and possibilities ahead.
Traditionally, New Year’s is a time for resolutions or lofty goals that will improve our lives in some way. From an early age, children understand that they can set a goal, even as simple as climbing to the highest part of a playground and finding a slide to carry them to safety again. They love the feeling they get by achieving it on their own. This sense of accomplishment leads to more goal setting and risk taking which prepares them for life challenges.
As teachers, we encourage our students to set realistic goals and help them to meet those goals. Teachers will often ask their students to set measurable goals in September and review the results in May. Some goals are big and ambitious, while others are simple and easily attainable. Our job is to provide just enough support and encouragement but also to allow for readjustments when necessary and reward efforts made towards the goals rather than their successful completion. I know that sometimes, as a parent, it can be difficult to watch a child struggle with goals, especially when falling short can mean frustration, sadness, or embarrassment. I was often the parent that “gave a boost” to my child to get him to the highest rung of the playground ladder. Allowing our children to struggle and meet challenge with little interference is often life changing for them.
Another important consideration is the idea of the goals coming from the child rather than the adult. While we may guide our students or children to make new resolutions for better test outcomes, or consuming a healthier diet, the most successful goals originate with the child. According to Jessica Lahey, in her book The Gift of Failure, “Self-imposed goals are about the safest place for a kid to fail. If kids make up their own goals, on their own timeline, according to their criteria, then failure is not a crushing defeat. Goals can be amended, changed according to circumstances, and even postponed to maybe next week. For kids who are particularly afraid and anxious about failing, goals offer a private proving ground, as safe way to take risks, fail, and try again.” She says that, “for a goal to work, the child has to own it.”
Katherine Reynolds Lewis, author of The Good News About Bad Behavior, talks about the importance of children being in control of their actions and this includes setting goals that tie to their daily life rather than the large, more narcissist goals, we often require of them. She mentions that we ask our children, “to be straight-A students and athletic superstars, gifted musicians and artists — which are all wonderful goals, but they are long-term and pretty narcissistic. They don’t have that sense of contribution and belonging in a family the way that a simple household chore does, like helping a parent prepare a meal. Anyone who loves to cook knows it’s so satisfying to feed someone you love and to see that gratitude and enjoyment on their faces. And kids today are robbed of that.” Maybe one idea is to focus on what brings more immediate rewards and satisfaction- preparing a meal one night a week, or doing an act of kindness each week and reflecting as a family on what it felt like to contribute to the greater good. January goal-setting gives our children the perfect excuse to move in small ways towards personal growth and happiness. Happy New Year 2020 to all!