Setting goals is nothing new for many grown-ups—looking at you, New Year’s Resolutions—but goals are not just for the new year, and they’re not just for adults. Kids benefit from working toward something they want to achieve. Whether it’s a cleaner room or less screen time, kids will benefit from setting age-appropriate goals.
The secret is setting them up for success. Here are 6 ways to help your kids set and achieve goals.
Talk About These Details Right Away
Set a start date and an end date. Kids often need quick wins, so shorter time frames are great. Have young kids go for a few days and build up to a week. Older kids and tweens can go longer stretches, but usually no more than a month. Offering quick wins gives them confidence and momentum to stick with it.
Another important detail is how your child will keep track of their progress. You can try an app or the classic sticker chart. Even a simple star on the family calendar works.
Decide What to Do
As parents, we can think of a few things our kids could work on! But what will improve their daily life and offer them a chance for success?
If they’re working on being more active, don’t start with walking a mile a day. Start with something fun like taking the dog for a family walk after school. If a clean room is the goal, try making the bed daily. Once they have succeeded in that area, they can build on it.
Walking the dog twice a week could become four times a week. Making the bed grows to putting dirty clothes in the hamper. Allow each goal to grow over time.
What You Focus on Matters
A negative approach won’t get you far. It’s true for us and for kids. While we may want them to stop eating junk food or to spend less time on screens, focusing on the positive yields better results.
Instead of eating less junk food, try eating an extra veggie each day. Instead of cutting down on screen time, aim to play a new card game every week. Finding something positive to do is more enticing than stopping something else.
The Secret to Success
We all want our kids to be successful, not just for the sake of goals, but for our sanity. I want my kids to get off their screens, clean their rooms, and clean the house top to bottom for me—too much? While we may not get the whole house cleaned for us, we can help them find success with the one thing that always helps: do it together.
Kids have a hard time saying no when mom or dad sit down to play cards with them or challenge them to race to the mailbox. Even a contest to make your bed the fastest motivates kids to do the work.
Interaction is a surefire way to help kids make progress on their goals. Find ways you can get involved to help motivate them and keep them on track.
How to Handle Setbacks
None of us want to believe there will be setbacks in goal-setting. The whole point is moving forward, but perfection isn’t realistic. There will be days when things don’t go perfectly. The key is how you handle it.
Three ways to handle a setback:
• One missed opportunity isn’t a failure. Give grace and keep going.
• Losing steam feels frustrating. Look back at the progress made.
• Things sometimes go haywire. Give a fresh start with a shorter time frame.
No matter which method you use, your kids will learn that goals are not a pass or fail system. It’s all about progress.
The Key to Rewards
If the satisfaction of a clean room was enough of a motivator, I wouldn’t have three books, a random recipe cut out from a magazine, and a screwdriver on my nightstand. We need a reward to motivate us to keep going to the finish line. Kids need that too.
Before kids even start working on a new goal, decide how they will celebrate at the end of the time frame. Will it be going out for ice cream or watching a favorite movie? Maybe a campout in the living room or a trip to the bookstore? What about an extra story at bedtime?
Whatever reward you give, make sure it doesn’t undo the hard work your child has done. The reward should be clear at the beginning and it should be finite. Having ice cream every night now that your child is eating more veggies doesn’t support the goal. The reward is a singular experience to celebrate the progress they made.
To make your child’s goal-setting successful, consider how your child will track their progress and work toward an appropriate reward that is motivating and works for you. For most kids, the reward needs to be right away to associate it with their hard work.
After a week of making their bed, they earn an extra story on day 7. When they have walked the dog twice a week for a month, a walk to the ice cream shop is on day 30. Define rewards, track progress, and reward to give kids success in setting their own goals now and in the future.