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Goal-Setting for Children

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School starts in August in the south. I’m preparing for my new school year, and my students will show up very soon. One of my early-in-the year topics is goal-setting for a new school year.  Although I set my own goals for myself, my students are also encouraged to set their goals and then work to achieve them.

The process of goal-setting with children is slightly different in the school setting compared to the family setting, but the major ideas are the same.

6 Steps for Setting Goals with Kids

First Steps for Goal-Setting

The first step is the ignite their imaginations. How easy this is depends a lot on the child’s temperament, personality, and age. The younger children seem to be able to dream big much easier than older children. Have students brainstorm as many things as they’d like to accomplish before the end of the school year as they can think of.

Help them to brainstorm by asking leading questions. You might ask, what would you like to achieve in school? In soccer? What or how would you like to perform at your piano recital, dance recital, or play? With whom would you like to become close friends? What special activities would you like to do with your friends or family? What artistic skill do you want to improve – drawing, painting, modeling with clay?

Remember, as they start dreaming big, that you want them to choose realistic goals, not just have big dreams. So, once they have a list of ideas, you need to refine some of them into goals. That’s step two.

For example, let’s say your 12-year-old son wants to play major league baseball. That’s a big dream – not a goal. You could tone it down to “learn to hit the ball more consistently when it’s pitched.” That’s still not a goal, though, because it isn’t measurable.  You have to nail down exactly how consistently he wants to hit. He might say, “I want to get a hit every game.” Or two hits. Or every other game. But it must be something he can track – to see if he made the goal or not.

goal setting for the new school year

Step three, then, is to determine action steps to help in reaching the goal. In the example above, he might ask if you can take him to the batting cages once a week. He might ask his coach, or a parent, to work with him on batting technique for 30 minutes once a week after practice. He might decide he needs more upper body strength, so he’ll start doing push-ups every night. The idea is to have him come up with steps that will help him reach his goal.

Making it Real

Once you have a big dream, the realistic goal, and the step-by-step plan in place, your child will want to have a method of tracking his or her progress. Having her create a poster of the steps to take on the way to the goal can motivate and reinforce her self-discipline and determination. Creating a chart to track progress – for example, how many minutes of piano practice is done each day on a monthly graph – encourages growth.

Along with tracking her progress, your child will need to plan for overcoming obstacles. The visual reminders can help overcome the ‘I don’t feel like it’ obstacles, but what does your daughter do if her goal is a 90 average in math, but she doesn’t understand long division? That’s an obstacle – now brainstorm how to overcome it. What will your son do if his goal is to make a touchdown every game, but he sits the bench three games in a row? Obstacles can demotivate a child or be used as a teaching opportunity to encourage them to redouble their efforts.

Finally, the thrill of reaching a goal is a great reward. But sometimes a tangible reward is great, too! Perhaps, if you daughter practices the piano for at least 30 minutes a day for 25 or more days in a month, she can invite a friend to spend the night. You could make the reward something related to the goal (new sheet music, attend a concert) or unrelated (ice cream party with three friends, trip to the zoo). Sometimes having an extra reason to push yourself in the ‘muddy middle’ when the newness of the goal is worn off and the end is nowhere in sight, can help a child (or an adult) to stay on track.

What To Do If….

What do you, as a parent do if…

Your child wants to quit his or her goal?

Have a talk about perseverance and effort. Remind her of the reasons she chose the goal. Remind her of all the work she has already put into achieving the goal. Try to determine if there is some outside reason for wanting to quit (being teased, a new girl in ballet is better than she is, her favorite teacher is out on maternity leave and she doesn’t like the substitute). In the end, however, let her decide if she going to keep trying for the goal.

Just an aside: that isn’t the same as letting her quit a team, skip practice, or give up lessons. That is a separate issue that you need to discuss as a family.

Your child doesn’t reach his or her goal?

Remind him of the achievements he has made. He didn’t learn to dunk the basketball – yet – but his dribbling has improved, and his free-throw percentage went up. This could be because he was faithful to practice daily in the driveway and he attended all the practices and games for the team. Help him set a new goal, or keep the goal, but move the date forward by another three, six, or nine months.

You child reaches his or her goal before the goal date?

Congratulate her and give her the reward you agreed on. Then, once the celebration is over, sit down together and make a new goal. The new goal could target the same skill – improving her speed in the 100-yard dash – or a new area altogether, such as learning to draw horses.

Encourage your children to always have at least one goal they are working towards and reward their effort to achieve more than the achievement itself. It is in the working that the real growth takes place. The goal at the end is just the mile-marker showing how far he’s come.

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