As you’re reading this you may still be enjoying the endless supply of Christmas treats and chocolates with a cup of tea, perhaps still mingling with friends and family members, or maybe you’re itching for the New Year to start and reading this in anticipation for all the tips you’ll find on how to make the most of a fresh start to a shiny new year!

And with another new year comes the obligatory New Year’s Resolutions – like the one you set yourself last year (which you’re still meaning to get round to) or maybe you’re brushing the dust and cobwebs of that gym membership you’ve been meaning to make use of but family life has just got in the way up to now.

Whatever your goals for this year, one thing is certain – when we start small and take little, achievable steps in the right direction, we’re well on our way to reaching them! Many of us parents get so overwhelmed with all the things we’ve been meaning to get round to that we start with an enormous list of things we will ‘do better’ at next year. But all that does is leave us feeling guilty and not particularly motivated to achieve those goals we’ve set for ourselves.

We’re far better to start small!

If your child (or you) has worked with one of the Youth Fairies you’ll know that each session involves an element of goal setting – identifying small actionable steps that assist with increasing serotonin, dopamine and other feel good endorphin levels, to promote more calmness, happiness and the ability to cope better with day-to-day life.

One task we ask people to do in-between sessions to support the process is to keep a positive diary, noting down 3-5 things each day that they have enjoyed, been pleased with or perhaps has given them a little sense of an achievement buzz.

For some children and parents this can initially be a difficult task.

When we are struggling with:

  • low mood
  • low self-esteem
  • low confidence
  • or anxiety

we may find ourselves focusing on those things we feel negative about.

Why is this?

  • This is because our brain, on a subconscious level, is reacting as if we are under threat, being triggered by various events, interactions or worrisome thoughts.
  • The more we feel this way, the more our brain focusses on the negatives – in the same way that you wouldn’t take your eyes off a polar bear lurking around in your back garden waiting for you to come out so it can have its lunch!
  • It’s much the same when we’re trying to set new goals for ourselves. If we begin with a negative mindset, we’re much more likely to focus on all of the fails rather than the wins – though those good or better days that count towards our goals are there, we just don’t pay attention to them and that impacts on our levels of motivation.

The Impact of Effective Goal Setting for Kids

Whether we are 7, 17 or 37 having goals can have a really positive effect on our well-being, confidence, sense of achievement and happiness in general.

We often talk about the feel-good neurotransmitters in sessions with children, in particular we talk about serotonin – which is created when we take positive actions, have positive thoughts or interact positively with others.

Another one of the feel-good neurotransmitters is dopamine.  Dopamine is the neurotransmitter which is released when we feel pleasure – it’s part of the reward system of the brain.

Dopamine is often referred to in association with addictive behaviours such as drinking, gaming, chocolate, high adrenaline activities and drug taking.  When we, or our children, are getting dopamine hits from these addictive activities their brains are triggered to repeat these behaviours – and sometimes these aren’t the healthy habits we want to encourage more of.

When we set positive, healthier goals and encourage our children to do so as well, the same reward system comes in to play.  As we achieve our goals, our brain rewards us with dopamine and we then continue to seek more of this by repeating the behaviour and creating a positive reward system that encourages and motivates us to stretch ourselves even further.

How to Set Effective Goals for Kids and Teens

When it comes to goal setting for kids and teens, breaking down goals into smaller more achievable steps is really helpful too – if the goal is too big we might find it too hard to achieve it and not receive the little hits of dopamine along the way that encourage us to keep going.  This can leave us feeling de-motivated and perhaps start looking for the dopamine in more unhelpful ways – like over eating and computer games!

When we break down our bigger goals into achievable steps we create a win: win – dopamine for setting the stretching goal and dopamine as we achieve each step.

It’s important to note here that the teenage brain has not yet fully matured and their reward system can encourage them to seek out more risky behaviour – they’re not trying to make wrong decisions or even trying to break the rules. Their brains are responding to the desire to create more dopamine. When we take a risk, that expectation of reward is higher – the teenage brain does not have the same experiences stored in the hippocampus that tells us adults (mainly) that the risk is not worth the reward.

When we support our children in setting goals, we are supporting them in creating a healthy reward system that stores up their good choices and reward responses in the hippocampus (the part of the brain where behaviours are stored).

Successful Goal Setting for Kids, Teens and Adults

So how can you help your family to set new, healthy goals this New Year?

  1. Get the children involved in setting their own goals. When we create OUR OWN goals, we are more likely to achieve them – resist the urge to set your children’s goals for them. Even if you think your ideas are better!
  1. Ask questions that encourage your children to set goals that are important to them and their personal interests. What activities do they currently enjoy? This might be art, music, sports or other clubs or activities.
  2. Explore with them what the positive benefit is of working towards a particular goal – get them to paint a picture (verbally or literally on paper) of what achieving that goal will be like – what will it mean for them?  What will be better as a result of achieving the bigger goal?
  3. Encourage them to break their goals down into steps and ask them, what one small step can they take this week to move closer to THEIR goal? You can make goal setting for your kids a weekly activity that you review as a family to help keep everyone on track.
  4. Check the goal is important to them.  Ask them on a scale of 0-10 how much do they want it.  If it’s low on that scale perhaps it’s not the right goal.  Many of us might say we’d love to be a millionaire but wouldn’t necessarily want to have to do what it takes to make that happen so the motivation would be quite low!
  5. Ask them to make a commitment. They might decide to share that commitment with another friend or adult – when are they going to do it and what exactly are they going to do? Encourage them to be specific.
  6. Encourage them to take a moment to imagine themselves doing it and how good they will feel when they have achieved this next step. The more our brain imagines something, the more likely we are to make it happen!

Have fun setting some new goals this New Year as a family – and remember to make the goals small, achievable and actionable!

Visit our Fairies page here to find out more about our therapists and book your free consultation!