3 August 2009 05:01 PM

How to Set and Achieve Goals

by Dr. Rick

Yes, it’s happening already.  A new school year is fast approaching.  What does your child want to accomplish?  How to teach him to set school goals and a course of action?  Over the years, I’ve helped students set goals as they maneuver through the elementary-, middle-, and high-school maze.  Here are some tips that have proved helpful for kids of all ages and their parents.

  1. Work as a family.  Develop the goals together, encourage him to involve a trusted teacher or friend, but remember the goals are ultimately his.  Help him to understand the best goals, the ones that result in real feelings of accomplishment, are the ones that require a bit of a stretch.  Talk over general ideas – an improved algebra grade, better study habits, mastering clarinet in band class, making sports editor for the school paper – and help him set priorities, but let him make the final decisions.  Setting his own goals increases his motivation and self-sufficiency.  (See my blog of 23 July, 2009, for further thoughts.)  This teaches independence.

  2. Keep the goals simple, clear, and easy to understand.  For young children, short-term goals are the best because they’re, well, short and result in higher rates of achievement.   Daily goals are the best – “What shall we do today in the park?”  “What book shall we check out of the library?”  Older kids in late elementary and middle school can be introduced to longer-term goals.  This teaches planning.

  3. Remember goals can change.  As a matter of fact, sometimes they should change.  Often we change our minds as we mature, learn additional facts and skills, or see a better course of action.  Children discover new talents and interests all the time, which cause them to change their goals.  (Intelligent, purposeful consistency is essential in learning, but remember the words of Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds . . .”)  This teaches flexibility.

  4. Break goals into small steps.  Just like you’ve taught her to do with important assignments.  It’s much easier to achieve small, reachable goals than to face a seemingly insurmountable task.  “I’ll read chapter one today, and by Friday, I’ll complete the first three chapters” is easier to reach than “I’ll read the whole book one of these days.”  This teaches organization.

  5. Celebrate each completed step toward the goal.  Kids love to earn our recognition and congratulations.  A hearty “Well done!” accompanied by a high-five goes a long way.  Kids are motivated by the praise almost as much as the feeling of accomplishment. (They can also spot an empty, unearned compliment a mile a way, so be judicious in your praise.)  Some alone time with you, without siblings, can be just the motivation to keep going.  (See my blog of 29 December, 2008, for more.)  This teaches persistence.

  6. Monitor progress regularly.  Check up on the younger kids frequently, and let the older ones know you’re aware of their goals and deadlines.  Adjust your monitoring as they show they need more or less of your checking up on them.  This teaches concentration.

  7. Write the goals down.  Be specific, otherwise they’re just wishes.  Help your child to create a game plan or an outline that will lead to her accomplishing her goal.  How long will it take?  What resources will she need?  Who can help?  This teaches attention to detail.

  8. Anticipate setbacks.  They happen.  It’s okay – in fact, it’s human – to make mistakes.  Sometimes we give ourselves too little time to make a goal.  Or we’re not able to foresee every circumstance.  Or something out of our control throws us off track.  So we learn from our mistakes.  This teaches perspective.

  9. Show how you make goals.  Let them see that you ask advice, weigh pros and cons, occasionally change your mind, and keep yourself focused as you work on your goals.  Involve kids in appropriate family goals.  (See my blog of 29 June, 2009, about involving kids in family decisions related to the bad economy.)  Be a role model.  This teaches family cohesion.

  10. Stay focused.  Help your child to keep her eye on the proverbial ball.  Have someone who can help, a hero or heroine, a study buddy, a mentor, an admired friend.  Show how athletes, for instance, fix a goal in their mind and then aim wholeheartedly for it.  Michael Phelps and his famous determination come to mind.  This teaches concentration.

Setting goals and determining the plans to achieve them are among the most important school skills students can have.  Right up there with helpful routines, good attitudes, organization, a positive attitude, and getting help when it’s necessary.  It’s never too early to show kids how to manage their learning and feel the confidence that comes with accomplishment.


We’d love to hear your comments, ideas, and success stories with your children and students.  Just click on Comments below.


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