By Beverly K. Bachel, author of What Do You Really Want?
- Seven-year-old twins Amy and Emma create Bake Me Home, a charity that has brightened the lives of thousands of families in crisis?
- Kylie, a young cancer survivor, raise more than $50,000 for her invention of a backpack that makes it easier for kids with cancer to get around, even when attached to IVs?
- Wai Wai, a student who didn’t speak any English when he started school in the United States, go on to become school president?
These three kids succeeded the same way yours can: by setting goals.
But what if your kids aren’t into setting goals? Or have had goals but never reached them?
There’s good news: Goal setting is a skill kids can learn. And like any other skill, the more kids (and parents!) practice, the easier it gets.
Goals Are Worth Having
Teaching kids how to set goals is important. Here’s why:
- Goals help kids fulfill their potential. Your kids can (and should) have all the dreams in the world. But if they don’t act on their dreams, how will kids become who they are meant to be or get where they want to go? When your kids set goals, they create a roadmap that will help them get what they really want.
- Goals boost confidence. When kids set goals and reach them, they prove to you and others that they have what it takes to succeed. They also prove it to themselves. And when kids feel confident, they are more willing and better able to take on new challenges.
- Goals create feelings of satisfaction. Studies show that kids who set and reach goals perform at higher levels and are more satisfied with themselves.
- Goals improve decision making. When kids can picture themselves in the future—for example, graduating from college, buying a car, or discovering a cure for cancer—they make better short-term decisions and are less likely to go along with the crowd or be swayed by what others are doing.
- Goals help break negative habits. If your kids have a habit they’d like to break—oversleeping, gossiping, picking on a sibling, or playing too many video games—goals can help replace these behaviors with more positive ones.
The Five-Step Goal-Setting Process
Whether your kids want to make new friends, get better grades, learn to speak Chinese, or find a summer job, this simple goal-setting process can help.
Step 1: Dare to dream. Talk to your kids about their hopes and dreams. Invite them to think about what they’d one day like to be, do, or own; who they’d like to meet; and where they’d like to travel. Encourage them to think about today as well as 10, 20, and even 50 years into the future.
Step 2: Pick a goal and make it SMART. Once your kids have some ideas of what they’d like to do, help them identify one thing they’re willing to work toward. It can be a short-term goal that can be accomplished fairly quickly (for example, taking the dog for a walk every day this week), or a long-term goal that requires more time and effort (becoming a veterinarian).
Then, help them make the goal SMART. SMART goals are:
- Savvy—They’re easy for your child to understand and meaningful to him or her. (Construct my dream house out of paper and tape.)
- Measurable—They define exactly what your child needs to do. (Shoot 1,000 pucks a week.)
- Active—They feature an action word such as read, run, or learn. (Clean my room for 20 minutes on both Saturday and Sunday.)
- Reachable—They stretch your child yet are realistic enough to be achieved. (Even though my sister has had a perfect GPA all her life, my goal is to get A’s and B’s.)
- Timed—They have clear deadlines. (Learn all my lines for the school play by next Wednesday.)
Step 3: Create a goal ladder. Imagine trying to eat an apple in one bite. That’s what going for goals can feel like if they aren’t first broken into bite-sized pieces. Here’s where a goal ladder comes in. To help your child create a goal ladder, help him or her write down all the steps needed to achieve his or her goal, combining those that are similar and crossing out those that don’t seem useful. Then have your child rewrite the remaining steps in an order that seems logical to him or her, putting the first step on the bottom rung of the ladder.
Bonus! Download the Goal Ladder, a free printable worksheet from What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens.
Step 4: Take action. Doing one thing, even if it’s small, moves your child one step closer to the goal and releases endorphins, the brain’s “feel good” chemical. Starting small also creates progress, which research has proven is the most effective motivator.
Step 5: Celebrate success. When your child accomplishes a goal—and climbs from one rung to the next along the way—celebrate. Be sure to do so in ways that are meaningful to your child. Also, match the size of the celebration to the size of the accomplishment: a chore-free weekend for acing a test, a dinner out for earning an A for the semester.
Master these steps and you’ll experience the joy that comes from seeing your child succeed. During the process, you’re likely to become a goal getter as well.
The author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens, Bev Bachel has introduced thousands of teens and their parents to the power of goal setting.
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