How To Help Your Children Set and Reach Goals: A Guide With Illustrations and Examples
What Exactly is A Goal?
Setting a goal can be a daunting and ambiguous task for an adult. One study suggested that of 3,000 people who started the new year with a goal, only 12% took any steps at all toward reaching their goal and of those 12% less than 2% actually reached their goal. How then can a parent teaching their child about goals and give them tools to help them reach those goals?
The answer is to give a clear definition of what a goal is and then show kids specific examples of goal setting. We do this by reading stories. We simply tell them that a goal is like a bulls-eye. It is something to aim at, something we want to achieve or accomplish. Next, we read stories about people who set goals. We read one story a day, stopping to talk about who set the goal, what the goal was and what the specific things the character did to reach their goal. For a whole week we talk about goals. We generally do this at the beginning of the school year and then again at the start of the new year. These are our favorite goal setting books:
Big and Little Goal Sheets
How To Set Goals With Kids
We work with our girls on big goals and little goals.
BIG GOALS: We use this "GOALS" sheet to help them along the way. We begin by reminding them what a goal is. Then we take one category at a time, starting with academic. We brainstorm possible goals or things we want to accomplish in that area, i.e. I want to read better out loud, I want to memorize my multiplication facts, I want to get a better grade in writing.... Then, our girl writes or illustrates her goal and we write a goal in the column beside theirs. Once we complete all the categories, we put the page inside a page protector in the front of their school binder. We revisit these BIG goals once a month by reading them out loud and talking about how they think they're progressing, as well as how we think they're progressing.
Little Goals: We use the "Weekly Working On" sheet to help with this. Once a week, usually on Sunday, we sit down with our girls one at a time and work through this sheet. We really try to let them choose their own goals unless there is a pressing issue and then we try to help them acknowledge that the issue should be addressed in their goal. Once they pick a category, they circle it and write the date by it. Then they decide how they want to work on the goal. It may be something like: School- I will practice my math facts 5 minutes every day or, Physical- I will do 20 jumping jacks every day or, Friendship- I will be kind to "Sue" by saying hi and another nice word every time I see her. This, too, goes in a page protector in their school binder (we just keep the most current on top). The girls then take it out each evening before bed and record how they did that day. At the end of the week, usually on Sunday before we set the new goals, they choose how they felt about their goal and progress that week and explain why. Sometimes they write the why and sometimes I do.
Goal Visuals for Kids
How to Help Your Kids Keep Track of Their Goals
Once a goal is set, it can be really easy to forget about it. Let's face it, life gets really busy and sometimes just surviving the daily schedule is an accomplishment! How then can you help your kids remember and track their goals. A visual reminder can be really helpful here. We usually do this by "building" something on a piece of paper. For math facts, we build an ice cream cone. One scoop for each set of facts memorized. Seeing the cone reminds them to work towards the goal and seeing it grow motivates them to keep going. For friendship goals, we often draw a person, one body part at a time as we work toward becoming a better friend. We do sometimes, erase parts as a reminder that we need more work in this area. An interesting thing about hanging up a visual reminder is that people in your home, such as friends and relatives, often ask about it and can become great allies in asking about and encouraging your kids towards their goals. You can also use a calendar or journal to help your child keep track of their goals. Set aside a few minutes each day for them to fill in a calendar square or write an entry on a journal page. You can keep this really simple by just writing the goal and then doing a plus or minus or smiley or sad, or you can let them be really detailed. Do what works for your family and your specific child.
I would highly recommend celebrating the accomplishment of goals both large and small. When you celebrate a goal you are affirming that it is a big deal to stop, think, make a plan and then work toward that plan with purpose. Remember that a celebration doesn't have to cost a lot of time or money. A specific word of praise such as "Great Job showing kindness by letting your friend go first," or "Wow, you said those facts so fast I know you worked hard to memorize them!" is a great reward. A note written and left in a fun place like a backpack or pillow can be a great reward and so can a homemade certificate of accomplishment! The happy dance and rounds of applause (when the whole family stops and claps moving our hands in large circles) are also great rewards. If we do a bigger reward we usually save it for a bigger goal such as memorizing math facts or reading a certain number of books. When this is the plan, we usually tell the girls shortly after they set the big goal and use a reminder of the reward to encourage them when they are tired or frustrated with the goal. However you celebrate, make sure you take time to acknowledge their hard work in this area. Not only will you see your child be more successful and responsible, but you'll help them cultivate a difficult skill that will serve them well as they become adults.