Whether it’s a cleaner room, less screen time, or making the sports team, kids grow from setting and meeting age-appropriate goals. Helping your child set goals – and making a strategic plan to achieve them – teaches your child an important life skill. Having a goal establishes purpose, triggers new behaviours, helps with decision making, and teaches the value of perseverance. Follow these steps to success!
Choose your goal
There are lots of different goals your child could set. Maybe the goal is grade based, like moving from a C to a B in a particular subject, or habit-based, like keeping a tidy room or reading a set number of books within a particular time period.
Your child might not even be aware that they have a goal, so be alert to possibilities. You might hear them say “I wish I could juggle” – there’s their goal!
Whatever your child wants to achieve, make sure their goal is SMART:
- Realistic (or relevant)
- Timely (or trackable)
This means having a clear target that is easy to quantify. For example, instead of saying “I want to get better grades”, say “I want to improve my grades by at least one letter in this subject”. Improving by one letter is far more attainable and realistic than aiming to go from a D to an A, and you can track the time by saying “by the end of next semester”.
Make a plan
Identify what your child wants to achieve. If their goal is BIG, break it down into smaller stepping stones so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. Each step completed towards their goal will boost your child’s confidence and spur them on.
If your child has set a goal that you know might be challenging and take time, point out the challenges first so that your child has a realistic expectation of what will be required of them. Discuss possible obstacles so that your child recognises them and work out a plan to overcome them if they arise.
Set a start date and a proposed end date to help them keep focussed. Small goals like saving for a new toy or game could be achieved in a few weeks. Bigger goals, like being picked for the representative sports team, could take a year or two to reach.
Write the goal and its steps down. You can make each stage deadline specific (but allow the deadlines to be flexible) and tick each achievement off as they go. Younger children might benefit form a visual “goal ladder” stuck on the fridge. Older children might prefer to make a mind map or vision board.
Now consider the three Ws: who, what, when.
Who can they ask for help with their goal, what can they do themselves, and when will they allocate time? The “who” could be a teacher, family member, coach, or even YouTube vlogger who has skills they could share. “What” is the practice and work your child will put in, and “when” is the time of day or week that your child has set aside to work on their goal.
Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish!
Is their goal age-appropriate?
A seven-year-old with a goal of running a full marathon is admirable, but full marathons have a minimum entry age of 18 in Australia. That’s a long time for a child to work toward that goal. In this scenario, start with something more appropriate, like a 6km fun run.
You want your child to be encouraged and little victories are the best encouragement, so guide your child as to an appropriate goal for their age. Here are some short-term goal suggestions if your child is stuck for inspiration:
- Read one book not assigned by a teacher
- Read one chapter from a chapter book each night
- Walk the dog for 20 minutes each day
- Learn one new scale on an instrument
- Ask at least one question to a teacher, every single day
- Learn about a career path they’re interested in
- Learn a magic trick from start to finish
- Start work on a school project at least 10 days ahead of time
- Learn one new coding, crafting, or cooking skill
- Write a business plan for an idea,
- Go a week without spending any pocket money
- Save up to buy something they want
- Learn how to cook a meal on their own
- Learn three phrases in a different language
- Write a short story and enter it into a competition
- Create a recipe and write it down
- Write two times/week in a diary or journal
- Track their spending for a month
- Ride a bike without training wheels
Let them ‘own’ their goal
Your child’s goal might be something you want for them too, but this is about their desire to achieve. Don’t push or steer your child towards a goal that’s more about what you want than what they want. We all want our children to be grade A model students, but if your child’s goal is to traverse the monkey bars in the playground from start to finish without dropping to the ground, respect that.
When people feel an emotional connection to their goal, they are far more empowered to achieve.
All goals start with good intentions, but children often underestimate how hard it can be to meet a goal.
Goals are meant to be achievable, but not necessarily easy – there’s no reward in instant gratification!
If your child is getting despondent or losing focus, remind them why they set the goal in the first place. Show them how far they have already come, and revisit that initial conversation to reignite their spark of enthusiasm.
It can be tempting to step in and take over. If you see your child struggling with something, don’t offer to do it for them or present a shortcut. Doing your child’s maths homework to help them raise their grade will not help in the long run. Instead, maybe there is some extra help or inspiration you can offer to help them get back on track.
It’s important to keep conversations positive. You don’t want your child to put off goal setting forever. A pre-emptive “I’m really pleased with how much effort you are putting into achieving your goal” can be all the prompt your child needs if they have temporarily forgotten to work on it!
Your child may be having lots of conversations with themselves as they work towards their goal. A positive goal mindset is essential.
If you hear your child saying, “this is too hard”, encourage them to change that thought to “I might find this difficult now, but I know it’s going to get a lot easier soon”.
A positive goal mindset takes practice, but once your child has a few “wins” under their belt, goal setting is a great skill that can take them far in life. And just like a snowball rolling down a hill, they get bigger! There is no limit to what your child can achieve when they aim for their goals.
This article was featured in Issue 52 of our printed magazine, June/July 2022.