Goals are a great way to feel a sense of momentum and accomplishment, whether you’re completing a specific project or mastering a new skill. Adults often set goals at work, for recreation or health-related reasons, and even to stay on top of tasks around the house. It’s also helpful for kids and teens to set goals—and their reasons for setting goals are very similar to adults’ reasons. Teaching your child how to set and work toward goals can sometimes be challenging, but it’s also a rewarding process that helps them become more independent.
7 Steps to Helping Kids and Teens Set Goals
1. Focus on Achievable Goals
While sharing lofty goals can be admirable, setting too large of a goal that’s hard to reach can eventually do more harm than good and affect your child’s self-esteem. If they want to set a long-term goal, like achieving straight A’s for the school year, work with them to set smaller goals that will contribute to their desired outcome. These smaller goals might include an hour of reviewing their homework every day, looking for extra credit opportunities in classes they are struggling with, or working with a tutor to improve their testing skills.
2. Break Down Goals
Have your child write down their goal and its components. What does your child want to achieve and why? This process will also help your child understand the steps involved in working toward their goal—the “how” of what they want to achieve—and the resources that might be required, including who they might need support or help from. Most importantly, consider the metrics they’re measuring against. How will your child know when they’ve reached their goal?
Visualizing the work required can even help them determine when they can realistically complete this goal or how much they can realistically complete within a certain amount of time.
3. Mix Larger Goals With Smaller Ones
Checking an item off your to-do list is always satisfying, and it’s no different when you’re working toward a larger goal. By setting up smaller incremental goals along the way, your child will feel more successful and motivated to keep working on the larger goal.
4. Incorporate Family Goals
Setting goals alongside your child will help them feel supported and like you are in the process together. You might choose something to work on as a family, like cooking dinner together more often or being more active, or show your kids what your personal and professional goal-setting process looks like. Talk about your successes and challenges and why you focus on certain areas for improvement as ways of modeling effective goal setting.
5. Use Rewards When It Makes Sense
While achieving a goal is its own reward, it can sometimes be helpful to have an external reward for a job well done. If your child’s goal involves a particularly challenging step, clearing that obstacle might deserve its own special attention. The best time to use this type of goal setting should be for larger scale goals, such as completing a big project that requires sustained effort and multiple incremental goals..
6. Make the Goal Your Child’s Choice
Setting goals only really works when the person wants to complete them. While every parent wants their child to succeed and typically has expectations for developing good habits and maintaining their grades, it’s important to make sure you are embracing the goals that they want. It’s helpful to talk through a goal together so they learn how to work toward it and achieve it, but try to avoid influencing your child’s decision.
7. Review Goals When They Fail
Not meeting a goal can be hard. When your child doesn’t reach a goal they’ve set, help them reflect on what went wrong and how they can make the goal more attainable. Celebrate their effort and acknowledge what they learned from the process.
It’s important to remember that some goals are subjective, like trying out for a team or auditioning for a school play; even though your child might not be able to predict the outcome when there’s an opportunity to try again, they can look for areas to improve based on feedback. Talk to them about times you’ve fallen short of a goal and what you learned from the experience.
Ultimately, setting goals is one of the best ways for your child to stay positive about things that they want to accomplish. In some cases, having a coach help your child along the way is a valuable source of extra support. Together you can help your child achieve whatever they dream up.