By Beverly K. Bachel, author of What Do You really Want?
Happy 2015! With the start of the New Year, you may be thinking about making resolutions and setting goals for the coming year, but are you helping your kids do the same?
If not, you may want to.
Studies show that kids who acquire goal-setting habits get better grades, improve their concentration, feel better about themselves, and experience less anxiety. In addition, goal setting can help families improve communication, reduce stress, and balance busy schedules.
Never been much of goal setter? Don’t worry. This is a skill you and your kids can learn.
Here’s an easy way to get started. Ask your child, “If you could do anything this year, what would you do?”
Chances are your child’s answers will make excellent goals. But don’t stop there. Take the next step by helping your child create SMART goals. SMART goals are:
- Savvy: They are meaningful and easy for your child to understand
- Measurable: They define exactly what your child intends to accomplish
- Active: The outline the specific action your child is going to take
- Reachable: They are challenging for your child, but still within reach
- Timed: They have deadlines
Here are some examples of real-life SMART goals from kids:
- Study math for 15 minutes on Mondays and Wednesdays.
- Earn $25 from babysitting in January.
- Get my driver’s license before school starts.
- Save $30 so that I can buy a new video game by my birthday.
- Take my dog for a walk every day.
- Make a new friend on the swim team before the season starts.
Keep in mind that goals come in all shapes and sizes. What’s SMART for one child may not be for another. And what’s SMART today may not be so SMART just a few months down the road.
Although there are lots of methods for achieving goals, the most successful goal getters use action plans. Action plans break each SMART goal into manageable steps. One of my favorite action plans is the goal ladder. As kids complete each step, they climb up a rung of the ladder, moving one step closer to their goal. I also like goal ladders because they help kids visualize their progress. You can download a goal ladder here.
Start by asking your child to brainstorm all the steps that go into accomplishing his or her goal. Review the list, adding any steps your child may have missed. Then, help your child combine similar steps and cross out ones that don’t seem useful. Ideally, your child’s goal will require ten or fewer steps, though longer-term goals may require an “extension ladder.”
Once you have a manageable number of steps, help your child prioritize them and fill in the goal ladder; put Step 1 on the first rung, Step 2 on the second rung, and so on. Post the ladder where it’s visible every day, then encourage your child to take at least one action—no matter how small—right away. Doing so creates an immediate sense of accomplishment and sets your child up for further success.
Give Goals a Chance
Once your kids have set their goals, step back and give them some space. Don’t nag, or they may abandon their goals altogether. But if you sense they are struggling, here are some ways you can help:
- Provide encouragement. Ask your kids questions at dinner or while carpooling to get them focused on their goals.
- Talk about your goals. Talk to your kids about your own goals and the steps you take to accomplish them. If your kids see you following through on your commitments, they’ll be more likely to do the same.
- Offer to help. Let your kids know they don’t have to do it alone. Offer to drive them to the gym, introduce them to a role model, or take them on a field trip.
- Stay positive. Even the most optimistic kids feel beat up some days. Jump-start their confidence by reminding them of their good qualities and their past successes.
- Celebrate accomplishments. When your kids take a step toward achieving their goals, reward them with a movie, time with their friends, or a chore-free weekend.
Beverly K. Bachel, the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go For It! A Guide for Teens, has introduced thousands of teens and their parents to the power of goal setting.
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