By Beverly K. Bachel, author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens
At the beginning of the school year, we encourage kids to set goals. But by now, most kids (just like the rest of us!) are looking forward to summer vacation. In the flurry of year-end projects, field trips, and final exams, goals may no longer be first on our minds. But that doesn’t mean they can’t still be a springboard for success—as these examples show:
- As seven-year-olds, twins Emma and Amy Bushman attended a summer cooking camp. As teens, they founded Bake Me Home, a charitable organization whose delicious cookies brighten the lives of others.
- Dylan Spoering, at age eight, wanted to do something nice for his neighbors one summer. The result? A free front-porch concert that went viral, giving him a taste of what it might be like to achieve his goal of becoming a musician.
- Maya Peterson, at age ten, used her summer break to attend a conference and further her goal of learning how to be wise with money. Now at age fifteen, she’s the author of a book focused on helping other kids learn how to become “early bird” investors.
Those are summers well spent! But how do you turn your I’m-on-vacation kids into successful goal getters? Here are five simple steps.
Step 1: Celebrate
Did your child get a better-than-expected grade on an exam? Develop a new skill? Help someone in need? Stand up to bullying? Overcome a bad habit? Take several minutes and jot down as many of your child’s accomplishments as you can. Then, share your list with your child and, as appropriate, other family members, asking them to add to it.
When you have a list that feels worth honoring, invite your child to sit down as you read the list aloud, offering your congratulations and a few high fives along the way. A celebration may also be appropriate. How you honor your child’s success is up to you, but keep in mind that celebrations (and other rewards) should be:
- Timely. Don’t delay or the celebration will lose meaning.
- Proportional to the size of your child’s accomplishment. Being named to the honor roll warrants a bigger celebration than doing well on a weekly quiz.
- Meaningful to your child. If your child loves thrills, a pass to a nearby amusement park may be just the thing. Other children may prefer something less extreme like a chore-free weekend or a chance to go fishing.
Step 2: Check In
Once you’ve focused on the positive, which helps build kids’ self-esteems and motivates them to persist even when things don’t come easy, it’s time to check in on the goals your child set at the beginning of the school year. One tool that can help is a Goal Check.
Like a postgame recap, a Goal Check helps your child (and you) determine what’s working, what’s not, and how to move forward. Begin by asking how your child feels about each goal and about his progress toward it. Ask open-ended questions such as, “Why was your goal important in the first place?” “What did you do well?” and “What could you have done differently?”
Also ask your child if the goal is still important. If not, give your child permission to let go of it and grab a new one. On the other hand, if your child still wants to achieve the goal, offer your support and encourage him to seek three important types of help:
- Get-there help. Practical stuff that helps kids get to where they want to go, get-there help includes things such as access to sports equipment or carpools to and from practice.
- Know-how help. This includes knowledge and skills that help kids accomplish what they set out to do—everything from how to fill out a job application to tips for taking better selfies.
- Feel-good help. These mental and emotional pick-me-ups designed to help kids feel better about themselves include verbal and written compliments as well as quality one-on-one time.
You may also want to help your child determine what’s been keeping him stuck.
Step 3: Brainstorm
Once you have a sense of what might be getting in the way of your child’s success, it’s time to tip the odds in her favor by encouraging her to set one or more goals for the summer. First, ask your child if she is still interested in going after any previous goals. If so, great. If not, ask open-ended questions to help your child identify other goals. Here are some of my favorite conversation starters:
- What’s one thing you want to accomplish this summer?
- What would you feel excited about being able to do in school next year that you can’t do right now?
- If you could be, do, or own anything when you grow up, what would it be?
Your child’s goals don’t have to be as lofty as starting a charitable organization or writing a book like the kids at the beginning of this post. In fact, going for a too-big goal can be like trying to eat an apple in one bite. Instead, concentrate on helping your child set a right-size goal that fits her age, interests, and skill level.
Step 4: Get SMART
To increase your child’s chances of success, help him craft goals that are SMART. SMART goals are:
- Savvy: Easy for your child to understand and use. (Construct my dream house out of paper and tape.)
- Measurable: Define exactly what your child intends to accomplish. (Shoot 1,000 baskets a week.)
- Active: Say what specific action your child will take. (Run a 10k.)
- Reachable: Require work but aren’t impossible. (Even though my sister makes more than minimum wage, my goal is to get a summer job that pays minimum wage.)
- Timed: Include clear deadlines. (Save $100 by September 1.)
Step 5: Start Climbing
Once your child’s goal is SMART, help her create a Goal Ladder. Just as a real ladder makes it easy to climb higher rung by rung, a Goal Ladder makes it easy for kids to climb toward their goals by breaking goals into doable steps.
Begin by asking your child what it will take to climb from one rung to the next. Once you’ve worked together to make a list of steps, cross out any that don’t seem useful. Then rewrite the remaining steps in logical order and assign a deadline to each.
Here’s what a completed Goal Ladder for finding a summer job might look like:
Congratulations! Even if your child hasn’t reached the first rung—yet—he has done what all successful goal getters do: set a goal, put it in writing, and shared it with others. Now it’s time for your child to make steady rung-by-rung progress. Even small amounts of time on a task can add up quickly. Plus, completing a task builds motivation by releasing endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemical. High fives also help, as does praise from you and other family members.
The result? A springboard to summer success that will carry over into the new school year.
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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