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Goal Setting for Children: The Why and How

At the start of a new year, we might be thinking: “I need a plan for this year” or “new year, new me.” It’s great to organize a plan for success at the beginning of the year. And guess what? Our children can also benefit from this type of mental activity. We can help them by modeling this behavior in a healthy way.

The goal setting process begins with determining what you want to achieve and creating a plan of action to accomplish the outcome desired. Start by having an intentional conversation with your children about creating small accomplishable and achievable goals. If the goals are small, they are easier for the child to follow through on. As each goal is reached, a child’s motivation grows. This improves their confidence, perseverance, and determination to move forward.

Try these steps to get started:

  1. Sit down with your child and talk through the process of setting up goals. Discuss why it’s important to do this. Let your child express how they feel. This gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility over their decision-making process. Ask, what is something you wish you could achieve?
  2. Once they come up with a goal, discuss its purpose – the ‘why’ behind it. Ask why this goal is important to achieve. How will you feel when you reach this goal? (Ex: happy, excited, proud, etc.)
  3. Work together to break down the goal into small, accomplishable steps to guide them to the ultimate goal. What daily actions need to be completed to get to the bigger goal in the end? For instance:
    • Example 1
      • Big goal: to get an A in math class
      • Small, daily goals: complete all homework, spend 15 minutes reviewing past material, write down confusion questions to ask the teacher tomorrow
    • Example 2
      • Big goal: make the track and field team
      • Small, daily goals: spend 45 minutes running every morning, stick to a well-researched diet, follow track and field advice accounts on social media
  4. Discuss some obstacles your child might encounter in the process and the ways they could handle them. Predicting possible difficulties is a great way to develop cognitive skills and help your kids feel more prepared to tackle their goals.
  5. Make their progress visible by tracking goals in a place where the whole family can easily see them. This not only keeps the child motivated, but also reminds adults to check in with them about the goal. As the child reaches each step, give specific praise for their efforts and celebrate their accomplishments, no matter how small.

The process of creating goals provides moments for connection between parents and children. Don’t forget to have fun and enjoy watching your children grow in a healthy way!

by Dr. Karen A. Owen-Jiménez, Psy.D