Goal Setting with Kids
Goal Setting with Kids: How to Help Children Accomplish Goals
It’s January — the month of resolutions. Adults everywhere are vowing to lose weight, find love, go on that vacation, get their dream job, and whatever else they’ve been meaning to accomplish. But what about our children? Are they encouraged properly to set lofty goals? It can be frustrating to watch kids who have the potential to do well doubt themselves or fall behind because they simply don’t have the inclination to try.
While you are laying the foundation for your own resolutions and goals this year, it’s the perfect time to sit down with your kids and work with them to set goals. It is a powerful skill that will serve them well as they grow into adulthood. Studies have linked strong goal setting skills in children to higher levels of achievement in school and beyond. However, you should tread carefully and start small to ensure the best chance of success.
Start by Identifying Goals They Are Already Working Toward
Everyone has a process they use to keep themselves motivated and encouraged. Look at goals your child has already set. Maybe they are saving up to buy a toy or a video game they really want. Ask your child what they’ve done to stick to their goal. You can use this idea, this process, as a springboard for a broader discussion about goal setting with your kids and how good it feels to accomplish something. Talk about how you can augment the techniques your child is already using as a way to help them improve.
Choose Small, Age-Appropriate Goals
I know we just mentioned lofty, but goals that are too big can easily overwhelm young children. The best approach is small steps. Set goals with your children to finish a project (crafts, reading a book, etc.) and gradually scale up. The younger your child is, the smaller the goal should be. But the energy burst and elation that come from succeeding at one goal can be used as a push to set additional, bigger goals.
Give Your Child Freedom to Choose
As with adults, children feel more empowered and invested when they choose which goals they want to achieve. In academics and sport, it’s far too easy for parents, teachers, and coaches to become involved and dictate what a child should be doing. Unfortunately, that’s setting your child up for failure.
Your discussion needs to be about which goals your child wants to achieve and how comfortable they feel in their abilities. From there you can work out a series of steps to take toward meeting that goal. As they tick off each milestone, your children will have a greater sense of accomplishment and more confidence in what they can achieve, setting them up for further success.
Using the SMART framework
Take the time to listen to your child. Most kids start to have a reasonable sense of what they can achieve by age 8. Do they want to learn to play an instrument better? Or reach a certain level of performance in sports? Or maybe do better in math?
We’re talked previously about how the SMART framework can help adults achieve success. The same principle applies to children. Outline Specific, Measurable, Achievable goals, and then make sure they are Relevant to what your child wants to achieve, and set a Timeframe for them to help direct them to the finish line.
Competition vs. Cooperation
Competition is detrimental to goal setting with kids because it can be stressful for them. Instead, emphasize cooperation. This helps give your child a sense of autonomy while also teaching the importance of relationships with others and a sense of community. Rather than trying to compete with other students for grades or top spots on a sports team, help your child identify the goals that really matter to him or her and enable them to work with others. This will help them understand that big goals get accomplished through teamwork.
Visualize the Results (and Reward Them)
You may have no trouble grasping that you may not see the results of your work right away, or that you are making progress despite there being little to show for it. Young children, on the other hand, have trouble with this abstract concept. Even older children can benefit from tangible progress trackers.
Charts and/or checklists can be a useful tool to keep children on track. As you draft up a goal with your child, break it down by milestones that you can check off. Set times to check in and evaluate progress (perhaps making use of the SMART framework). For example, give your child a gold star for every chapter they complete in a book. Encourage them to keep a journal or create a punch card that documents achievements. Give younger children the time to talk about their goals and what they have achieved so they can relish in their accomplishments.
Goal setting with kids can be richly rewarding for everyone involved. You are empowering your children to take responsibility for themselves while also unlocking their potential, boosting their confidence, and boosting skills that will help them later in life.