Six steps to helping your child set and acheive goals

My daughter has big dreams of becoming a champion Irish dancer one day. More than anything, she wants to dance at Worlds. I don’t think she dreams of becoming the #1 Irish dancer in the world, but she does want to have the experience. This, however, is a very long-term goal. This is not the kind of goal that can be reached in one year, and she is the only one who can make this dream a reality.

One of the benefits of such a long-term goal is that it helps her learn to set appropriate benchmarks. Each year brings a new sub-goal along the path to champion. Last year she wanted to move up a level in all of her dances. This year she’s ready to move up another level.

The other benefit of setting long-term goals is that it helps kids build resilience and cope with setbacks. Sometimes my daughter finds herself on a roll — moving though the level quickly. Other times, she faces failure and has to figure out what to change. Teaching kids to establish and work toward goals has many benefits.

  • Responsibility: Success or failure depends on what they put into it.
  • Time management: Kids learn how to manage their time to meet their goals.
  • Self Confidence: Nothing beats the feeling of meeting your own goal.
  • Resilience: Kids learn to cope with the small setbacks that might stand in their way.
  • Perseverance: They learn to keep trying and rework their steps until they meet their goals.

Parents often approach me with concerns that their kids don’t have any real goals or passions, or that they just “don’t apply themselves”. More often than not, this lack of inner drive results from parents establishing the goals for the kids or parents pushing too hard.

With that in mind, below is your six-step guide to helping your kids set and reach their goals this year.

1. Confront unrealistic goals. Sometimes kids choose goals so big or so out of their element that it’s nearly impossible to meet them. When my daughter first set her goal of becoming a champion, we had a long talk about the difference between long-term and short-term goals.

If your cat-allergic child sets a goal of getting a cat, it’s time to have a reality check. If your little basketball player identifies the NBA as his goal, help him set a more attainable and age-appropriate version of the goal for this year.

Encourage your kids to choose goals that are realistic. Whatever the goal your child sets, be sure that your child came up with the goal. If you want your child to follow through, the goal has to have meaning to your child.

2. Choose just-out-of-reach goals. Everyone enjoys feeling successful after meeting a goal. That’s natural. Sometimes kids stay well within their comfort zone in an effort to ensure success. The great thing about setting goals is that we learn to reach. We strive for something new. We might not meet a goal in the time allotted, but we might get very close. There’s value in trying. We have to teach kids to try.

Encourage your kids to choose goals that are attainable but also just out of reach. In doing so, they learn to push themselves to meet a new challenge versus hiding out in the comfort zone.

3. Set specific goals. A good goal is a specific goal. Kids love to generalize when it comes to setting goals. They might say things like, “I want to be the best basketball player on my team.” But what does that mean? How can that be measured?

Ask your child to brainstorm more specific goals that can actually be measured (“I want to score two baskets each game,” for example).

4. Break it down. One of the reasons that goals and resolutions can be so hard to keep is that often they feel huge and it’s hard to know where to begin.

Teach your kids to break their goals into smaller, manageable steps. My daughter, for example, is focusing on moving up a level in one dance at a time. That gives her a focus within the goal, and she knows where to begin and what she needs to do to reach it.

5. Set up checkpoints. I often encourage kids to use a poster board to map out their goals. On the top of the poster, they write the main goal for the year. Underneath, they write the steps they can take along the way to reach the goal. With a visual aid in place, they can check in on their goals monthly (or weekly) and check off steps as they accomplish them.

It’s important to encourage your child to establish his own checkpoint system. Some kids like to review their goals every week, while others prefer longer periods of time to work on the steps. For kids to learn to set and meet their own goals, they need to develop systems that actually work for them.

6. Make it a family plan. When families make goal setting a family effort, they learn to support each other. This fosters a family environment based on cooperation instead of one grounded in competition. It also reinforces the fact that although all people are individuals with their own unique interests, we can all work together and provide support and help when needed.

It also adds some family fun to the process of learning to set and meet goals!

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