Setting Goals with your Children

Goal-setting is one of the most essential lessons a child can be taught. By educating your children on the value of goal-setting, you’ll empower them to always try to achieve their best; consequently, increasing their chances for success in life.

Teaching your child about goal-setting also teaches them to take responsibility for their actions and promotes a positive “can-do” attitude, so make this process educational and fun. Here are some tips on how to make goal-setting fun and how to get the whole family involved.

Other Benefits of Goal Setting for Children:

  • Improved self-image
  • Increased awareness of one’s strengths
  • Increased awareness of one’s weaknesses
  • Providing an experience of success
  • Encourages prioritization
  • Defining reality and separating it from wishful thinking
  • Developing a sense of responsibility
  • Improved critical thinking and decision making

The basic principle behind goal-setting with young children is to help them establish a long-term disposition of thinking, planning and taking necessary action to reach objectives. Thus, except for a few minor adjustments to account for cognitive and emotional development, goal-setting for children is the same as it is with adults. Goals just need to be made smaller, more specific and achievable. These goals can be physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, etc.

Before you get into the process of goal-setting with your child, it’s important you begin by explaining what a goal is, the significance of goal-setting and how satisfying it is to reach your goals. Something that works well to convey this to children is to provide a specific example of a goal that you had for yourself and how you worked to achieve it. Children learn by example, so it is helpful for them to understand how their parents also work on goal-setting. Make the process really engaging by creating a new goal for yourself and go through the goal-setting process with your child.

So how do you teach your children to set their own goals?

Here’s a 5-step process for helping your child develop and track goals of their own.

Pick an Attainable Goal

Once your child has a good understanding of how goal-setting works, ask him or her to explain in detail a few goals they would like to reach. It is important that you allow your child to be the one to come up with the ideas for their goals. As a parent, we can serve as the guide as they create their goals and create an open dialogue about the purpose their goal ideas will serve. Also, while creating a list of goal ideas is fun, only focus on one or two at a time.

Some age-appropriate goal ideas for preschoolers:

  • I will clean up my toys
  • I will learn how to make my bed
  • I will brush my teeth twice a day
  • I will read two books a night
  • I will set the table for dinner two to three nights a week

Develop a Plan of Action

With the goal specified, it is time to discuss a plan of action to ensure they’re successful. Help your child write down their goal and what steps they will take to meet the goal. Make plans to review the steps with your child as frequently as necessary to guide and keep them motivated and on course to reach their goal.

When working with your child to develop an action plan, it’s important to take some time to brainstorm on potential obstacles that could occur. What are some things that may get in the way of their success? How can you help them plan for those and come up with a game plan to overcome those challenges? This step is a great way to teach your child how to overcome adversity and adjust their plan as needed. If you help your child plan for these in advance, then they’ll be less discouraged if an obstacle arises.

Track Progress

One of the most important parts of goal-setting is tracking progress. Young children can easily become discouraged. Since you’ve broken down the goal into an action plan, these smaller actions are what you want to track against – not just the bigger goal.

Try to make tracking their efforts fun! Create a poster to hang on the fridge or the wall in their bedroom. Offer small rewards for meeting each step in their action plan such as placing a sticker on a poster or choosing what’s for dinner one night.

Course Correct when Needed

Of course, as we discussed above, things rarely go as planned. If you help them plan for that in advance, then they are less likely to get discouraged.

As your child works toward each step in their action plan, you may have to make adjustments to help the goals become more attainable. As you’re tracking progress, review the entire process and applaud all of their efforts. Even if your child did not reach the ultimate goal and adjustments had to be made, it is important to discuss all that your child learned and to praise the hard work that was put in.

Celebrate Achievements

Finally, after weeks of hard work, your child has achieved their goal. This is a huge accomplishment no matter the size of their goal.

By following the steps above to instill the concept of goal-setting with your children at an early age, you are giving them an indispensable skill that will be used throughout their lives. 

What happens if your child gets bored or wants to give up on their goal?

We’ve all been there – that point where we start to question ourselves and get discouraged. We ask ourselves questions like, “why am I even trying to do this?” when things start to get tough.

This happens to our children as well.

The best way to keep your child-focused is by continuing to remind them of the purpose of their goal and to review the action plan they created with them. It’s also very important for you to consistently recognize and praise them on their efforts whether they were successful or not, teaching them that what’s most important is their effort and persistence.

With the end of the year approaching quickly, it’s a perfect time to reflect on the past year with your family, discuss things you’re grateful for and begin thinking about each of your goals for the year ahead.

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