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How to Set Goals for Your Kids

Tips for setting goals for younger and older children.



Kids are not lazy or unmotivated; it’s simply easier than ever for them to be distracted and disengaged because we are living in an age of constant stimulation and interruption.

We need to help our children learn how and when to put their blinders on so they can apply focused goal setting to challenges of their own choosing.

As a parent, you can encourage your children to practice healthy goal setting. Follow these suggestions and you'll notice your kids stepping up to set and meet new challenges that bring smiles to their faces. As for your role, get ready to cheer them on and give them credit for their contributions as any good coach would.

Let them steer

Choose an age-appropriate, just out-of-reach goal. Be careful you don’t interject your own desires into this process. For a child who is unsure about what goal to set, be patient and offer choices until something appeals. You play a supporting role helping your child accomplish whatever goal is chosen, whether it’s cooking with a new recipe or raising money for a good cause, but remember that it must be your child’s goal, not yours.

Emphasize fun

If your child is overweight, focusing too much on weight loss is not going to help; it just might scar him. Forget the problems you think your child needs to solve and emphasize the fun of setting and reaching goals instead. Let a child who has become too sedentary come up with goals on her own, like joining a team or training for a race for the fun of it, not just to get mom and dad off her back. Share stories of goals you’ve set and met to inspire her.

Embrace strengths

Every person has strengths and weaknesses. There are no exceptions to this rule. If you only mirror your child’s negative qualities and mention them too often, perhaps you have not spent enough time considering her best qualities. There are not merely five or 10 positive qualities that describe people; there are hundreds. Pick up a little book called Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Go through it and circle the words you think describe your child. Mention these qualities often and watch your child’s confidence blossom.
Assist with challenges. Offer yourself as a sounding board when kids run into challenges reaching their goals, but don’t solve their problems for them. Instead listen to their concerns and ask them questions. Get them thinking about approaches that might help. Instead of telling them what to do, ask if they think any of your ideas might be good ways to meet challenges. Don’t feel internal pressure to unstick a stuck child. Brainstorm with them and then let them do it.

Praise progress

If your child is continually focused outward, measuring where she stands in comparison to others can rob her of personal power. Instead of encouraging your child to be the generic best, encourage your child to achieve her personal best. Celebrate the fruition of this expression no matter how it measures up with others. In this way, a ribbon for Most Improved can be viewed as just as valuable as First Place or MVP.

Respect weaknesses

Just as strengths can be discovered and flexed for increasing success, weaknesses should be acknowledged and honored, too. The idea of respecting weaknesses rather than denying or trying to correct them may seem strange. But consider whether the investment of time and energy to turn weaknesses around is worthwhile. Sometimes flaws teach kids valuable things they need to learn. For example, a forward who can’t score might make a better midfielder on the soccer field. A dancer who can’t do acrobatic tricks might have a strong sense of showmanship on stage. A scattered student in the classroom might be a talented artist in the studio. Teach your child to forgive weaknesses and pursue the undervalued abilities he may be pointing toward instead.

Play the long game

As your child focuses on setting and reaching personal goals, things may not always go quite the way anyone expected. Life has a way of bringing twists and turns to the table. This means short-term victories don’t always pan out as expected, even after much time and energy has been invested. When disappointments happen, and they will, help your child focus on the big picture. Getting the most personal satisfaction out of the process and achieving personal growth while making valuable contributions to the whole should always be the plan.

Christina Katz is a freelance writer.

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