I love this quote by Tony Robbins, “Setting goals is the first step from turning the invisible to the visible.”
During my years as a school counselor, I held numerous workshops.
One of the most popular ones was focused on how to help your child set a goal.
We also talked about the importance of setting goals with their children, and how to explain what it means to have a goal.
In one specific workshop, I was surprised to see one of the dads in attendance.
I knew all 6 of his children well. Each one of them had been in my student caseload, and I was still working with a couple of them.
His children were responsible and clearly successful academically. A couple of them were involved in athletics, and they were also successful in that role.
After we finished the group discussion, I caught the father before he left to satisfy my curiosity.
I thanked him for attending and then continued, “Your 6 children are remarkable in school and athletics, what do you believe has made a difference to help them be so successful?”
It took the dad a quick minute to reflect before providing an answer.
“I would have to say asking each child at the beginning of every month what their goal was for the month. We would write it down, talk a few minutes about how they could reach the goal, and then I would check in with them throughout the month on their progress. It was something I started when they were small. They were usually successful, and I guess they liked that feeling because they have continued to set goals on their own as they have gotten older.”
Setting goals is a skill that is used throughout a lifetime. Dozens of studies validate the correlation between setting goals and being successful.
It is never too soon to teach your child what it means to set a goal, and how to achieve them.
Learning the importance of goal setting is a skill that can help your child learn time management, grow self-esteem, and develop a sense of responsibility.It is never too soon to teach your child how to set a goal!
Even at a young age, the process of setting goals can be simplified to meet the age of your children so they don’t feel overwhelmed or frustrated.
Setting a goal with your child can help them understand the importance of routines, schedules, and expectations, whereas they may not understand them at all before having the ability or understanding of setting a goal.
A simple example of setting a goal with a young child is to ask them, “What would you like to do after breakfast?”
This may not feel like a goal; however, this is a great way to start teaching goal setting at a young age. You are asking your child to make a decision, and then you will help them follow-through with it. This is the beginning of goal setting.
How you teach goalsetting to your child will have an impact on their response. Goals need to be a positive part of their life, not something they dread.
Start with a Small Goal
You want to set your child up for success in the early stages of goal setting.
This is not the time to teach your child about what it means to have to stretch and grow to meet a goal. Quick wins will get your child excited about goal setting so they want to continue.
When your child learns the process of setting a goal and experiences the reward of achieving a goal, you can introduce what it means to set bigger goals that take harder work to achieve.
However, keep in mind that goals are set to be achievable, not so far out of reach you know it is impossible to meet them before you even get started.
Keep the Time Frame for the Goal Short
The first goals your child sets should also be short in length.
This is especially true for younger children. They are not ready to track long-term goals, and they do not have the skillset to stay focused for an extended length of time.
Several days to a week is a good time frame. Daily goals are also an excellent choice.
Keep the Goal Realistic
If your child continually fails to reach a goal, they will lose interest.
They will also lose their self-confidence and belief that they can do it and steer clear of goal setting altogether.
For this reason, to help your child set a solid goal it is essential to be actively involved in the selection of the final goal.
You know your child’s abilities and interests.
Make suggestions about things you know will get them excited. When setting the goal, keep the steps small and achievable so you can celebrate them together.
Another example of a goal that is not realistic is something that is out of the child’s control.
For example, if your child is in a new school he may wish he had more friends.
He asks to set a goal to make 8 friends in the next month. This is not a realistic goal because he cannot control how other people respond to him.
There are definitely actions he can take to make friends, but the end result may not be met, leaving him feeling sad and like he failed.
Help Your Child by Letting Them Set Their Own Goal
Deciding on a goal will take time to have a conversation about their dreams and aspirations.
Get a piece of paper and make a list as you talk, then use the list to narrow it down to the final goal.
Goals will be different for every child. There is no right or wrong goal, as long as it is realistic.
Examples of a child’s goal, depending on their age, might be:
- A new skill they want to learn, such as riding a bicycle
- Something they want to build, such as a favorite Lego kit
- Something they want to do, such as organizing their toys and keeping them organized
If you find your child is choosing goals that will be difficult for them to achieve, rather than telling them ‘no,’ simply redirect their attention to other ideas on the list or make suggestions to refocus their attention to something different.
Make Sure the Goal is Relevant
Goals need to be practical to the goal-setter to be effective.
For example, if your best friend has a goal to go to the gym every day for the next 3 months and she knows having an accountability partner to go along will help her reach her goal, she may ask you to join her.
If you don’t have an interest in working out, it will likely be a struggle to stick this out with her, even if you want to help her out.
The goal isn’t relevant to you so the commitment will be lacking.
It is not different with children, no matter what their age.
If your child wants to set a goal to make the soccer team, but he only wants to play soccer because his best friend is on the team, it is not a good goal. It isn’t relevant to him at a deep, personal level.
Keep the Goal at Your Child’s Developmental Level
If a goal is too hard to achieve, human nature is to give up and make ourselves believe it really wasn’t important to us.
There is a difference between setting a goal that requires stretching and pushing oneself to reach it and setting a goal that is completely out of the realm of achieving.
It is vital to be able to identify the difference between the two.
Helping your child set a goal that is in their developmental level will prevent frustration and causing them to feel overwhelmed.
Both of these feelings create personal conflict and cause one to quit believing in themselves, which ultimately can lay a foundation for poor self-esteem.
Write the Goal Down
Once the goal is set, it is important to have your child write it down or if needed, you can write it down for them.
This can be in the form of words or in the format of a picture for younger children. Hang it in a place your child can see it every day as a reminder to keep them focused on working toward it.
If this visual is not looked at on a consistent basis, it is easy to forget the goal even exists.
A study completed by LeadershipIQ revealed multiple aspects about goal setting trends.
This study included documentation on the reason writing your goal down is essential for long-term success (along with reaching multiple goals over an extended period of time.)
Help Your Child Set Their Goal by Using a Tracking Sheet
Creating a visual aid to monitor your progress will increase motivation and confidence.
Checklists are an excellent choice as a visual aid for goals. They can come in various formats.
The most important part of this visual aid is to be able to see progress being made as you get closer to reaching the deadline.
It will also keep you on track by showing if you are on target to reach the goal by the end date that was set.
Stay Focused and Aware of Your Child’s Goal
Early in the learning process of setting and following through with goal-setting, your child will need gentle reminders to maintain focus.
Don’t wait for your child to bring up the goal to you. Take the initiative to support and help them if they seem to be falling behind.
Stay aware of the daily plan that was laid out.
If the goal was too rigorous, this is a great time to talk to your child about either moving the end date or revisiting the original goal to ease up whatever is creating pressure.
Discuss the Results of the Goal Before Starting Another One
As the deadline approaches, carve out a chunk of time to talk about the results together.
Discuss what worked, what needs to be improved in the process, how the tracking sheet worked, feelings that were felt along the way, etc.
Be candid but sensitive during this conversation.
Use positive words and provide specific examples showing what your child did right during the process.
In the areas your child had difficulty, rather than calling them failures rephrase the wording to opportunities.
Add the power of the word ‘yet’ into this discussion, noting he/she may not be able to do it ‘yet,’ but with persistence, it will happen.
Separate Your Child’s Personal Goals from Your Typical Parent-Child Relationship
Personal goal achievement should not be tied to consequences or punishment if they are not met.
The goals that this article discusses are ones the child is setting to learn the process of goal-setting and to get the reward of how it feels to reach a goal.
This is different than goals that are set by the parent for the child, such as completing a daily chore, completing homework by a certain deadline, etc.
Resources on How to Help Your Child Set a Goal
What has worked for you to help your child set a goal?
The process of setting a goal and following through with it takes patience and practice (for both the parent and child!)
If you keep working on the concept with your child, they will pick up the skill and eventually be setting goals on their own.
Hop down to the comments and share your experience of what has worked best to help your child set a goal and follow through with it!
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