By Beverly K. Bachel, author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens
The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to prepare your kids for academic, extracurricular, and social success by helping them set goals for the new semester.
Here’s a seven-step goal-setting process I recommend:
Step 1: Set the stage.
Clear off the table and turn off the TV, phones, and other electronic devices so that you can give your child uninterrupted attention. Explain that successful people set demanding yet reachable goals—for school, sports, getting along with friends and families, and making a difference in their communities. Also explain that setting and sticking to goals can ease stress and anxiety, boost concentration, and make life more satisfying.
Step 2: Assess the past.
Invite your child to reflect on the past semester by asking open-ended questions, such as:
- What went well? What could have gone better?
- Who was a good influence on you? Who wasn’t?
- What are you most proud of?
- What are you most disappointed by?
- If you could have one do-over, what would you change?
Step 3: Hone in on the future.
Ask your child to think about the upcoming semester. Again, open-ended questions are a great tool for encouraging your child to talk about his or her hopes, dreams, fears, and frustrations. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- What are three things you’d like to accomplish this semester?
- Is there a specific subject you’d like to do better in?
- Is there anything you’d like to stop doing?
- Who might be a good influence this semester? Who might not be?
- Of all the things you’re learning, which do you think will be most helpful to you in high school? In college? As an adult?
Step 4: Pick some goals.
Your child can’t do everything, so help him or her pick out a few goals to concentrate on—perhaps a subject, a sport, and a friendship or perhaps improving an existing skill or learning a new one.
Step 5: Make goals SMART.
SMART goals bring structure and accountability into play, turning vague ideas and unrealistic daydreams into well-defined statements of intent. SMART goals are:
- Savvy: Easy for kids to understand and meaningful to them. (Improve my grade in science from a C to a B.)
- Measurable: Define exactly what needs be done. (Learn 10 vocabulary words.)
- Active: Feature an action verb (Read for 15 minutes every day.)
- Reachable: Require kids to stretch—but not break. (Study math on either Saturday or Sunday.)
- Timed: Have a specific deadline by which kids can say, “I did it!” (Finish my essay by next Friday.)
Step 6: Create a goal ladder.
Imagine eating an entire apple in one bite. That’s what going for goals can feel like—especially to kids—if you don’t first break them into bite-size pieces. I recommend using a Goal Ladder. You can download one here.
A Goal Ladder is an action plan made up of the specific steps your child needs to take to reach his or her goal. Just as a real ladder is climbed rung by rung, so is a Goal Ladder. Here’s an example of one:
Step 7: Celebrate success.
When your kids achieve their goals, both big and small, honor their accomplishments. Also honor their efforts. You can do so in both big and small ways, though, ideally, the size of the celebration should be proportional to the size of the goal. An afternoon spent studying might earn a chore-free evening, while acing a test might earn a weekend sleepover. In any case, celebrations—just like goals themselves—should be meaningful to your child.
Follow these seven steps, and you’ll be well on the way to ensuring that your child has a goal-filled second semester worth celebrating.
Tips to keep in mind when helping kids set goals
- Think small. While you may be tempted to focus on end-of-semester grades, smaller goals that can be achieved along the way will keep your kids more engaged.
- Make goals visible. Have your child write out his or her goals. Then, to help kids keep their goals in mind, post the goals on the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, or anywhere else your child (and you!) will see them often.
- Check in. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life. To ensure that you don’t forget about checking in with your kids about their goals, add a weekly reminder to your calendar.
- Stay positive. Kids should see goal-setting as an adventure, not a chore. So while you’ll want to help your kids achieve their goals, be careful not to nag. Also, don’t penalize your kids for missing their goals. Instead, help them regroup.
- Be a good example. Setting your own goals and working to achieve them is a great way to motivate your kids to do the same.
Bev Bachel has helped thousands of get-to-it-later teens (and adults) become real Goal Getters. She set her first goal—sell twenty-five glasses of lemonade—at age five and has since used the power of goal setting to make new friends, buy a car, run a marathon, read a book a week, and buy an island beach house. In addition to writing and speaking about goals, Bev owns her own marketing and communications company and writes freelance articles.
Bev Bachel is the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens.
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