It’s a new year and, for many, that means New Year’s resolutions. Children don’t necessarily need resolutions – after all, they are unlikely to have many of the same vices and bad habits adults need to break – but it is a good idea to help children set goals for the year, both academic and personal.
The ability to set goals – and create a game plan for achieving them – is a lifelong skill that is vital for success, whether that be at the office, on the sporting field, or even within the home. And like all lifelong skills, it is imperative to begin practising setting and working towards goals from a young age. Here are some notes on goal setting, and some tips on how to go about it.
Why do children need goals?
Regardless of their age, children are autonomous beings and, as such, they need to be able to make some decisions for themselves and take responsibility for their actions. Having goals and figuring out how to stick to them is a great way to teach children self-discipline and self-motivation. By having something to work towards, children are more inclined to focus and make productive decisions.
Having a clear set of goals will also give children a sense of autonomy, which is important as they get older and want to feel less like babies and more like the adults into which they are growing. For these reasons, having goals (and attempting to achieve them) can also help build children’s confidence and self-esteem as they watch their own progress, which is very important for a child’s holistic development.
1) Determine realistic goals for your child
Before you and your child can set goals, it is essential to ascertain what can be realistically thought of as a goal. Do not take it in yourself to decide what a realistic goal is – this is a conversation you must have with your child. Help them think about what goals they might set by asking the following questions:
- What would you like to accomplish?
- What would you want to try this year?
- What would make you feel proud?
Perhaps they want to increase their grade in a subject by a letter or wish to be in a higher-up team in their sport. Use this input as a springboard for making those goals concrete.
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2) Help your child understand the concept of goals
To make the notion of goals make sense to kids, ask them what the purpose of their newfound goal is. Ask questions like “How do you think that will help you?” or “What are the benefits of doing this?”
By helping them to dig a little deeper into what they want to achieve, your child will start to understand goals, not as merely something to accomplish, but something that has personal value and meaning for them. This is what will help drive their self-discipline and self-motivation.
3) Make the goal(s) actionable
It’s all well and good to have a specific goal, without a plan to achieve it, it’s pretty useless. Break down the ‘big goal’ into a series of smaller goals through which your child will work. Sit down with your child and decide together how your child is going to work towards that goal. It’s useful to decide on a (realistic!) timeframe, whether that be a month or a year. For example, if your child wants to increase their grade from a C to a B, that’s a 10% increase, so you could focus on increasing the grade by a couple of percentage points with every test or assignment. It’s also a good idea to set up a monitoring system to help ascertain your child’s progress. Charts are usually a useful way of doing this: have one column for the date, and one column for the progress update. That way, at a glance, you can see whether the goal is being achieved.
Read more: Teaching kids how to plan
4) Plan for failure or setbacks
While no one likes to think about it, it is simply a fact of life that none of us will ever achieve every single goal without encountering an obstacle or challenge. Children are very sensitive and, as such, you need to sit with your child and discuss what both of you will do in the case of the goal not going to plan.
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It’s important to try to predict possible hurdles in advance because they can knock the wind out of a child’s sails, especially a younger child. Plan in advance how you and your child will work together to overcome an obstacle, should it appear. For example, if your child wants to improve their grades but performs worse on a particular assessment, decide ahead of time that the two of you will sit together and go through the work to see where they went wrong and focus on that area in the future.
Setbacks like these can be very demotivating, but it’s essential to help your child focus on the bigger picture and help them understand that failure is a normal part of life. The important thing is overcoming it and working even harder to achieve those goals.