Any successful adult you come across most likely had parents who taught them a thing or two about goal setting. After all, in children’s author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s own words, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Goals, the ultimate mind target games, enable us to work toward future achievements and teach us about the positive outcomes of perseverance. The beauty about goal setting is that it allows our kids to imagine a project, its rewards, benefits, and keeps them driven towards getting there each day somehow, little by little. Whether it’s learning how to play an instrument, memorize a poem, or finish a gigantic puzzle, it’s important to applaud your child’s efforts every step of the way.
Teaching children fun, goal-setting plans early in life will often carry over to children’s homework routines and help them avoid cramming for tests, for example, by starting to study earlier, instead of the night before. As you begin to help your child find a goal and stick to it remember that using encouraging phrases versus a strict disciplinary tone of voice seems to work best. “As your child begins to set goals and work toward them, don’t forget the compliments. Say something like, ‘I’m really impressed. When you care about something you really go after it!’” suggests Virginia Shiller, PhD, author of Rewards for Kids! Ready-to-Use Charts & Activities for Positive Parenting, in a Parents magazine interview.
Giving kids acknowledgment of their success when they make an effort, rather than a ‘go to your room and practice that instrument’ strategy is much more constructive. When helping your child with goal setting—whether its potty training, to shoe-tying or writing her name—specific goals work best.
Those who succeed are children who set realistic and clear goals. A goal such as ‘I’m going to do better in school’ is not as specific as ‘I’m going to get an A in math class.’ Your child may want to learn how to play soccer. But instead of leaving the goal at that, help your child make it short-term and specific. ‘I’m going to score a goal, by kicking the ball into the net, in two weeks’ time.’
We all need a visual sometimes and charts are a smart way to keep your child’s eyes on the prize. Stick the chart up on a wall in his room and note all the positive steps, even if they are baby steps, he made along the way. Also be sure to include a deadline with your child’s goal. Without deadlines we’d all just dance to our hearts’ delight in la-la land. Help your child come up with a fun goal she could achieve within a precise period time. ‘I’m going to read Little Women in five months’ time.’ Clear and simple goals are the best way to get kids moving and prepare them toward bigger goals in the future. Then, chart out her progress, chapter by chapter. This way your child can measure time and view how well she’s doing with her reading (and know when she should start speed-reading to meet her deadline).
Sometimes, the smarter the child, the more frustrated they become if they can’t meet their goal fast enough or not by deadline time. For a child, five months can feel like forever and a day, but remind them that reading a 400 + page book takes a lot time. If she doesn’t finish on time, cheer her up and encourage her to keep going; tell her that sometimes you don’t finish your books on time for your own book clubs’ deadlines, but that you finish the assigned book anyway because you set your mind to it.
Most importantly, when it comes to setting goals, let your child be the one to come up with their own goal. If you want to suggest a goal idea, make sure to be sensitive with their age and interests. If you sense it is not a sincere goal like, ‘I want to help mommy around the house more,’ keep at him until you see it’s something he really wants to learn to do, like, ride his bike without training wheels (gasp!). Goal setting is a challenge for us all, but success is so sweet when we can celebrate it together.