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Goal setting gives children a way to make positive changes in their lives, and encourages them to reach even higher in academics, athletics, the arts, their social lives and even their personal hygiene. Naming and defining targets can also help kids address — and overcome — feelings of frustration or failure. Planning out those goals can make their dreams a reality.
Strategizing with your child about how they can accomplish a specific goal — whether it’s something relatively easy to realize or a long-term, pie-in-the-sky objective — can help younger kids better understand the concept of time and personal responsibility, and show children of all ages how a series of smaller, easier-to-pull-off actions can add up to something great. This type of parent-child collaboration helps build nurturing relationships, too.
A short-term goal could be to remember to make their bed every morning or regularly brush their teeth. Longer-distance finish lines may include mastering a musical instrument, securing a place on a competitive sports team or getting into college. Whatever the goal, the role you’ll play in guiding your child to achieve it will be informed by their ages and individual needs.
Identify the goal
First, understand that the goals you envision for your children may not align with what they want, and that’s OK. It’s more important for kids to identify a desired target on their own and establish a plan to reach it (with your guidance) than it is for them to follow anyone else’s wish list. Remember, allowing children to set their own goals is crucial to healthy development at any age. Once a goal has been confirmed, talk to your child about the steps they’ll need to take to get there, and what kind of commitment each of those steps represents. An aspiration to be in a play or audition for a local talent competition, for example, will require a well-prepared song or monologue, as well as a solid chunk of rehearsal time over a period of months if they land a part. Any discussion of goals should include what’s realistic as well as what’s not.
Spell it out
For some kids, seeing their goals and game plans written out in black and white is the push they need to persevere. Do they want to make the honor roll? Parse out the attributes of a successful student and ask your child to write down their study plan for classes including assignment and exam dates, and notes on how they will minimize distractions and tackle any obstacles. Is the goal to get out the door and to school on time, stress-free and prepared for what the day will bring? Ask them to think about what tasks can be completed the night before and what will need to happen the morning of, and to write those things down. A structured diary like “My Simple Book of Goals: Goal-Setting Journal for Youth” leads children through the steps of achieving their intentions; “Every Kid’s Guide to Goals: How to Choose, Set, and Achieve Goals That Matter to You” is a helpful guide/workbook that can keep kids organized and on track. Even a simple wall calendar picked up at a dollar store can facilitate your children’s reach-for-the-stars program. And in this age of technology there are of course several child-friendly apps you can download that also serve this purpose.
Inspire and encourage
Books and movies can be efficient tools for opening up a dialogue with your child about myriad things, and goal setting is no exception. They also provide examples of people and characters who continue to pursue their dreams until they reach them. Examples include films like “Finding Dory” and “Hidden Figures,” and books such as “Salt in his Shoes: Michael Jordan in the Pursuit of a Dream,” “Amazing Grace,” “A Chair for My Mother” and “Anything Is Possible.” When your child does check off one of the things on their to-do list or reaches an expressed goal, acknowledge, applaud and reward it. With that and in supporting their goals, you’re positively impacting their self-esteem, social interactions and fortitude.
Children’s Trust Senior Program Manager Bevone Ritchie, M.S. in guidance and counseling, oversees a wide range of parenting programs across the county. For more information, visit thechildrenstrust.org.