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How to Teach Your Child to Set & Achieve Goals!  Part 1 of 2

           By Judy Flury, Ph.D.


            One of the most fundamental of all “success traits” is that of goal-setting.  As noted by success guru Brian Tracy, people with clear, written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.

            Few would argue against the premise that to achieve great things in life, we need to have the ability to set and achieve meaningful goals.  However, goal-setting is not an innate skill, and we’re not taught about goal-setting in school.  Few parents think to impart specific goal-setting lessons to their kids, because they weren’t taught the lessons themselves.  If we’re lucky, we hear a talk, read a book, or see a presentation about success or achievement that introduces us to the process, and we then come to incorporate regular goal-setting into our lives. 

            As a parent, you can introduce your children to the process of goal-setting at a young age, making it much more likely that it will become a regular and ongoing part of their lives, instead of leaving it to chance as to whether or not they will someday pick up the skill on their own.

            Below are six basic steps for effective goal-setting.  Unless you already have yourself on a goal-setting program, chances are that you will pick up a few pointers for yourself here as well!  In each part of the goal-setting process below, I outline how each can be brought down to your child’s level in order to make it meaningful for them.  After all, “success” means different things to them than it does to us!

            First things first, though: before kids can be expected to participate in the goal-setting process, they’ll have to understand why they should even bother - in other words, they need to see what‘s in it for them.  The best way to give them this understanding is to find something that they currently have a desire to get, or to do, or to achieve, and take that opportunity to explain to them that they can do what is called “setting a goal” in order to achieve the result that they’re after. 

            Once you find the opportunity (for example, perhaps you notice that your child is talking about wanting to make an ‘A” on their spelling test, or score more points in this Saturday’s basketball game, or finish a semester project in one week), that is the perfect time to help them go through the process below and show them how it can help them achieve that result.  Once they see that the process works and that they indeed get what they wanted by engaging in this process, then they will be excited about it.  Once they’re excited about it, that’s the perfect time to introduce this as an ongoing process that they can do throughout their entire life to achieve whatever they want to achieve, and to let them know that you and they are going to start a goal-setting program together.

            Steps to effective goal-setting, and how to get your child involved in the process:

            1.  Decide what it is that you want to achieve or get.  Be very specific.  “Score more points in basketball” is too vague.  How many points?  “I want to make at least 6 baskets in every basketball game from now until the end of the season” is much more specific, and gives you a concrete picture of what you need to work towards. 

            At first, the goals that your child sets will seem trivial to you -- don’t expect them to come up with particularly meaningful, life-altering ambitions right at the start!  The goals that the kids tend to set first include things like “earn more X-box time”, “finish my book in 4 days”, “eliminate 2 players on Fortnite”, “learn more jump rope tricks”, etc. It really doesn’t matter what the goal is.  What matters is learning the goal-setting process, incorporating it into their everyday lives, and getting them excited when they see that they really can get whatever they want in life by setting a goal for it, and working hard to achieve that goal.

            2.  Write your goals down in a special goal-setting notebook, or on index cards.  The act of putting your goal into writing is crucial.  A goal that is not written down is not a goal!  It’s just a wish.  There’s something almost magical about writing your goals down -- they become concrete and tangible. Seeing your goals in writing brings your wants out of your mind and turns them into actionable items.

            3.  After you write your goal down, you then ask yourself the “magic question.”   “What can I do to reach this goal?”  Never ask “can I reach this goal?”  The question is not “can I?” -- it’s “how can I?”.  If it’s been done before, then obviously you can do it.  When you ask “how”, your mind will automatically go to work and will respond with all sorts of answers.  Under your written goal, write out all of the things you come up with that you can do that will help you reach your goal. 

            Those will be your action steps. Using the above example, if your goal is to “score at least six baskets in every basketball game until the end of the season”, and you ask yourself “how can I score six baskets per game?”, then some of your action steps might be: practice shooting baskets for 30 minutes every day, exercise for 30 minutes daily so that you don’t get worn out during the game, watch tapes of pro basketball games every other day, and ask your coach for private lessons.

            4.  Break down your action steps into daily and weekly activities.  Write down which of your action steps will you perform on which days, Monday through Saturday.

            5.  Review your progress every day.  For adults, this is best done in the mornings. Each morning, at the same time every morning, take out your list of goals, assess how close you‘re getting to achieving the goal, figure out what you need to do more or less of or differently to keep moving forward, and review which action steps are on tap for that particular day.  This keeps you on track during the day, and assures that you don’t let the minutiae of the day take over and derail you from working towards your goals.

            For children, this is best done at night (the morning will be too rushed for you to help them with this.  While you can review your goals, progress, and the day’s action steps in the car on the way to work or in the restroom while putting on makeup, your child won’t be able to do this review process alone at first - they will need your help, and  this will take a good 5-10 minutes. Morning rush-time is not a good time to try to go over this with them!)

            6.  Once each week, review what your goals are, adjust your action steps in terms of what is working and what’s not, and see what other goals you might like to set.

            That is the main goal-setting process.  Here are two helpful tips to help make the most of this system:

...Tune in next time for part 2, for these pro tips that will ensure the success of the system for you and your child!  



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