Teaching Goal Setting to Children
How to Give Kids Accountability When it Comes to Goals
By Anjali Joshi
With the first weeks of 2016 already out of the way, some of us are desperately trying to hang on to those New Year’s resolutions made mere days ago. Flooded with ambiguity and irrelevance, these resolutions are a poor example of goal-setting for our children. This life skill is known to be critical for motivation, self-regulation, and achievement; yet, we spend little time in explicitly teaching goal-setting to our children.
What are S.M.A.R.T. goals?
Smart goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals we set for ourselves.
- Specific: What exactly will you do?
- Measurable: How will you know when you meet your goal?
- Attainable: What steps will you take to reach your goal?
- Relevant: What about your goal makes it important to you?
- Timely: When do you want to complete your goal?
Instead of resolving to have a cleaner room, encourage your child to be more specific. Are they going to make their bed each morning, sort their laundry on Sundays, organize their toys every week? Specific goals increase the level of accountability, and help us evaluate our effectiveness in reaching the goal.
Your child should have some way of tracking his or her effectiveness. Instead of the parent assuming the role of the rule-enforcer, have your child take an active role in measuring his or her success. Not only will they stay accountable, they will also learn independence and responsibility along the way.
This one is tough for children (and adults!), especially as we are constantly learning about our own capacity. Parental guidance plays a key role in finding that “sweet spot”: a goal that is adequately challenging but not so unrealistic that it is unattainable.
Pick goals that matter. With children, you may have to walk through the rationale of why we set goals (i.e. to improve on an aspect of your life, to become a better person, etc.)
Establishing set time frames helps with measuring your achievement. “Achieve an ‘A’ in Mathematics on my next progress report” gives a deadline that the individual can work towards.
Teaching children how to create effective goal-setting skills builds capacity to take on challenges, teaches self-regulation, increases the likelihood of experiencing success, and builds confidence. Along the way, we adults have the opportunity to practice our own goal-setting skills!
SMART goal templates (downloadable!)
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