June 6, 2021: Setting Goals With Children
Goals. What a common yet powerful word. I am big on goals. Setting them. Working toward them.
There are all kinds of goals. Long-term goals; short-term goals; personal goals; common goals. The list is endless.
There are also piles of resources and support out there to help with setting and working toward your goals. SMART Goals. WIGS. Leveraging habits. Strategic planning.
I was recently having a conversation with the parent of one of my students when the conversation turned to goals. She wondered what the most effective approach to setting goals was for her to use with her children. While much depends on the age/maturity of the child, as well as specific family preferences, there are some guidelines that I recommend when setting goals with children:
- Do not have children work on goals that are too long-term.
o As adults, setting long-terms goals helps us to define and refine our purpose and philosophy of life, but children have a hard time thinking that long-term. That does not mean you should not have life-goal conversations, but keep in mind that these are shifting and fluid- as they should be when you are not yet an adult. Therefore, setting up working goals and action plans around them may not work. After considering the age of the child, set up the ending parameter as no longer than a year.
- Definitely have tiered goals.
o That means there need to be some longer-term goals (perhaps year-long or seasonal) and then shorter-term goals that lead to that longer one. This is critical for them to begin to understand that working toward goals is a process, not a one-time act. I would suggest starting with an annual goal, then working your way down to quarterly, or monthly goals that feed into that annual goal. If annual is too long-term, start with a seasonal goal. Then work down to weekly goals to help meet that seasonal goal.
- Make sure to have goals in more than one area of their lives.
o Do not focus their goals only on school or academic goals. Help your child to chunk their life into categories and set a goal in each category. Categories may include things like specific hobbies, (learning to bake a chocolate cake or building a birdhouse) sports they may be involved with, (mastering a dance move or a video-game-level) or a personal goal like keeping their Legos organized. Make sure they have at least one goal that involves relationships and connections to others. Maybe a goal involving grandparents who live out of town or a best friend.
- Make use of a calendar.
o This is a very visual reminder and prompt that will help them to see that the daily or weekly goals that they have support the journey toward their ultimate goal. This allows them to see the connections as well as their progress. Be sure to celebrate these small steps toward the larger goals. This allows you to leverage the sense of accomplishment that they feel when completing smaller steps/tasks and this in turn feeds their motivation.
- Schedule regular “goal-check-in” time.
o Once you have helped your child set their goals, you MUST periodically sit down and revisit and discuss the goals and the action items and the progress. If this is eliminated, the goals will most likely be forgotten. These check ins can be weekly or twice a week, but these check-ins are critical in keeping the goals relevant.
While the goals themselves are critical, the process of setting and working toward them is just as important. The skills, approaches, perspectives, and self-knowledge that develop as a result of the process are life skills.
During this process, be sure to share your goals, and the processes and strategies that help you. When children see the value in your life, that becomes a powerful example for them.
If a goal is ultimately not met, this becomes a valuable learning experience. This is when a discussion is involved to pinpoint why. Was the goal ultimately unimportant and therefore, was no longer a priority? Was progress toward reaching the goal made, but just not in the time anticipated? Were the strategies productive? Sometimes goals and action-plans do need to be reworked, and occasionally, even abandoned. These are all important parts of the process.
And of course, celebrations when goals are reached, become motivational and can feed the pursuit of additional goals.
So with Summer 2021 just getting started, this is a great time for everyone to set some goals!