Wishes, Goals, Hopes and Journeys

New Year’s resolutions can be a dreaded idea for children, especially older kids. I have always enjoyed making goals for the new year and have learned a lot about effective goal setting. I like finding ways to make the process more palatable for kids of all ages. Here are some ideas:

Make a Wish

Clinical psychologist Sally A. Theran suggests fostering conversations with our kids as toddlers in order to lay a foundation of communication. Resolutions, or goal setting, can offer a great ongoing platform for establishing these habits of reflection. With the very young, resolutions may take the form of a wish. I guide the little ones to make a wish less about concrete items and more about learning new things and helping themselves to become more independent, like getting dressed on their own or trying new foods. These exercises help them learn that they can have a certain amount of control over a wish by taking part in it. To help visualize a wish, we might draw a picture of it to remind us. I like to purchase Flying Wish Paper, (www.flyingwishpaper.com) which is a really fun way to put a wish out to the universe. We use it ceremoniously at birthdays and the new year for all ages.

Hopes for Loved Ones

A wish can also be a hope or a prayer for loved ones. We can wish for them to get through a difficult time but we can also put our hopes into action by offering help, food or just listening to them. Active listening entails asking questions and making relevant comments, but not taking over or trying to fix someone’s problem. Most often, people just want to be heard. Active listening is one of the best gifts we can give loved ones and has the power to create deeper connections. You can model good listening to your children and offer them phrases and questions to pose to others.

Visualizing our Ideas

I have been known to craft a modern take on the Mexican retablo for folks who are struggling. A retablo is like a physical version of a prayer. They are traditionally made out of wood and can include a variety of items such as photographs, personal items and milagros. A milagro is a metal charm in the form of various symbols that represent needs or desires; literally, a tiny miracle. I like the leg or foot milagro which can represent our physical and symbolic journey in life, reminding us that we can choose which directions we go and avoid paths that have not been productive. I recently made a fabric version of a retablo for my brother who is seeking a more fulfilling workplace. 

Baby Steps

As a kid, I began my history with resolution-setting by listing way too lofty goals. Young people can get quickly discouraged when these ideas do not materialize. We can help them make these goals more accessible by distilling them into steps. Why haven’t you learned to play the guitar yet? Perhaps you need to fit in the time and money required to get to the guitar playing. This type of goal list is often better illustrated in a Venn-type diagram or web that visually illustrates the various paths to achieving a goal. 

A tool I have used with some of my older students relies on such a visual aid. Together we create a symbol for them that represents the achievement of particular goals. For example, we created a poster for a child who was afraid to speak in front of the class where they could add a paper brick to build a wall representing tasks that establish steps towards being more comfortable in front of a group. First bricks might recognize when the child raises her hand to ask a question in class or speaks up during a group discussion. The more steps she takes and recognizes with her bricks, the closer and more comfortable she hopefully becomes with the idea of talking in front of the entire group. This process helps young people connect experiences in ways we might not initially realize are beneficial and gives them more realistic expectations for future goal setting.

Although the new year is a great time to make plans for our future, goals should never be set in stone and they can evolve all year long. Having them nearby for “editing” and polishing purposes is helpful, and when a goal has been accomplished it is really fun to cross it off! We need to teach children that attaining goals requires a process—they do not usually happen in one fell swoop. The journey is always a beneficial piece that offers up learning opportunities.  There are times when the desired outcome is altered by the journey itself.

Write a Personal Mission Statement

Resolutions should be inspiring, not grueling. Another helpful exercise for older youth is to write a personal “mission statement” that helps to define what is important not just at school or work but overarching their life. Such a statement helps to analyze what is viscerally important, and if they don’t know yet, offers a guide to eventually figuring that out. 

Steps to writing a personal mission statement:

1. State who you are in descriptive terms, such as a well-rounded creative or a passionate environmentalist.

2. What do you do and who do you do it for? Do you make delicious meals? Are you a good listener?  Do you come up with great ideas? Who is your intended audience: family, peers, children, the disadvantaged?

3. How do you make an impact with what you do? For example, provide pop-up meal stations, write articles, or attend city
council meetings.

4. What is the desired result of your actions? For example, more people recycling, eating better, social change, etc.

Finally, especially for young adults, journaling is an excellent way to reflect and assess situations. Many people love the tactile feel of actual pen on paper and there are beautiful versions of journals and inspiring planners out there. My son has been given many, but I recently learned that he journals on his computer and he has shared that this ongoing practice has been very helpful to him.

I hope you and your children, regardless of age, can embrace the idea of creating resolutions, goals, or whatever you might name them, and the potential of this act’s far reaching outcomes. Let’s have a good 2022.

Jill Carstens is a proud Denver native, a passionate mom and a teacher her entire adult life! Jill Carstens taught for 30 years and now enjoys writing this column, connecting with merchants for ad sales for The Denver North Star, and organizing neighborhood events supporting the local arts, community.Email her with comments or story ideas at jill@denvernorthstar.com


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