With school in full swing it is almost time for the first progress reports to be making their way home. Even if you started the year off making goals with your child, this is the perfect time to make some new ones or start the goal setting process with them.

Why Set Goals?

According to sources ranging the spectrum from academic to business, goal setting is a vital component of our lives and a key to long-term success.

  • Companies, organizations and individuals all set goals to grow and attain new heights and achievements.
  • Goals give focus, allow progress to be measured, they allow for boundaries to be set, provide a system of accountability and can motivate.
  • Goals, and reaching them, give us confidence and can also show us the things that are really important to us.

Teaching children the art of goal setting is a gradual practice and tends to start on the small scale, but these tips and tricks can apply to long beyond just school-age children’s goals.

What is a Goal?

If your child is new to the goal-setting process, you will want to explain what a goal is. This might also be a good conversation for older kids who’ve been part of classroom goal-setting in the past or even set their own personal goals. Reminders and refreshers can always help clarify things.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a goal as: “The object of a person’s ambition or effort; and aim or desired result; the destination of a journey; a point marking the end of a race.” While a goal can also be a sport scoring method, that’s not really the definition of the word that we’re going to focus on, so let’s ignore that one, for our purposes here.

A goal is not just some intangible thing—it is a result, a destination, the endpoint of a journey or an effort. A goal takes work to achieve; it takes action.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ~Anonymous

Starting Block

Most of us already unconsciously set goals of varying degrees and importance. At the heart of it, even a grocery list is a goal. All goals go through a process.

  1. You set the goal (restocking the pantry or fridge or maybe just getting the ingredients for dinner)
  2. Make an action plan (writing a grocery list and scheduling when to go to the store)
  3. Visualize the goal and think about what you’re going to do to get the task done (deciding which stores to go to or checking the sale pages to see which place has the best prices on the items on your lists, gathering coupons, etc.)
  4. Fulfilling that goal (by going to the store, crossing off the list, then bringing it home, and putting it away or making the meal)

These are the same steps that people, groups of people, organizations and even businesses use to set and accomplish their own goals. They are the same ways to walk children through goal-making. With children you might want to gradually introduce them into this process. Many educational resources suggest setting smaller, very short term goals with children early on. When you set longer-term goals with them, parents should help them make an action plan for achieving that goal. Then use reminders in order to hold them accountable and keep them on track.

Be SMART About Goal-Setting

Many schools use the SMART guidelines when teaching children to set goals, which are a great tool for setting effective goals at home as well, be they academic or personal.

  • Specific

Set goals that are specific and clear. Write them in positive terms; write what your child wants to accomplish rather than what they don’t want.

For example, instead of “don’t get in trouble” setting a goal of “earning a good conduct grade weekly” is more specific. It also meets the other four criteria below.

  • Measurable

This guideline reminds us that you need to establish criteria for how the goal is to be achieved. This is vital; there has to be a way to show both how to accomplish a goal and when the result has been met.

  • Action-Oriented/Attainable

Goals should be attainable, meaning within the student’s grasp. They should also be action-oriented, requiring the student can take action to achieve the desired result. This guideline can necessitate an action plan or a map showing how to achieve a particular goal. Typically these are made up of steps which will lead to the completion of a given goal, and they can be as simple as a to-do list or more involved for longer term goals.

Goals are more achievable when the expectations are clearly laid out and everyone knows what is expected in order to achieve them.

  • Realistic

When setting goals, you should keep in mind the resources and constraints of your and your child’s particular situations. A goal should require your child to stretch a bit, while allowing for the likelihood of success.

  • Timely

A goal should have a concrete endpoint; a timeframe in which it should be accomplished. It should also allow a child adequate time to complete the actions needed to meet the goal, but by the same token the trick can be not to allow so much time that he or she might lose focus or motivation.

Making it Happen

Probably the most important key in this process is the action plan. It is essentially your child’s roadmap to achieving their goal. It is the steps that are necessary to reach their destination. Your child might need your or another adult’s assistance defining the steps and prioritizing them to increase their chances of success chance. Action plans can also show a child that large goals can be met with much smaller steps, which will help them feel like they can achieve all of their goals.

Of course, accountability is a close second in the goal-setting process. Sharing their goals with someone, who will remind them and inquire about their progress, as well as encourage them when the process might not be going so well. In the event that their action plan might not be working out as well as hoped, you can help them redefine their approach.

Another key to accountability is posting their goals where they will see them. Reading their list regularly will help keep the goals and action plan fresh in your child’s mind. It can also help motivate them to get results. Another way to motivate them is to find some way to chart the progress to their goal, be it a sticker chart, reading journal, or other applicable method.

Don’t forget to celebrate their goals when they reach them. This doesn’t need to be a gift or a night out, though it certainly can be. Having their achievement recognized is what is important. With longer-term goals, knowing something is waiting for them at the end of the journey can help motivate your child to accomplish their goal, but not everyone needs an incentive in order to reach their destination. Celebrating your child’s goal doesn’t have to cost anything. It could just be taking a few moments to bask in their success with them. Plus, focusing on their successes makes a child more likely to set and achieve future goals.

Remember that the goal list and the action plans are not set in stone. They can be reviewed and revised as needed. Encourage your children to try different ways of wording their goals (but keep the approach positive—what they want to do). Goal-setting, like so many things improves with time and practice. So keep working on it with your child. Repeat the process regularly. Try new things. Keep it fresh and fun.

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