It is coming. In some cities it has already begun, in others it is on the near horizon. It’s the beginning of what many parents call the “most wonderful time of the year”. It is time for the kids to go back to school! The summer has been full of swimming, games, and vacations. Sure, it has had it’s wonderful moments but now the honeymoon of summer is wearing thin and parents across the country look forward to a normal routine and maybe even a little free time to think for a change.
But with the excitement also comes some stress as we think about how our kids will perform with new teachers, new classes, homework, projects, and the social experiences of school. The major concern at our home is whether or not this is the year that our oldest child will start to actually care about his grades and take some accountability for the quality of his effort. Here’s to hoping, right?
As I have considered ways to help our children do well in school and be proud of their accomplishments, I started thinking about helping them to set goals for themselves. If done right, perhaps we can take the emphasis away from the letter grade they receive and link their success to their effort and the accomplishment of the goals they set for themselves.
So how do we help our children set goals that they can take ownership of? Here are some thoughts:
#1 – Set aside a time to speak one-on-one with each of your children
Setting goals with your child needs to be done in a personal setting with just you and them. If other children are present, you run the risk of your child not expressing their true feelings because they don’t want siblings to hear. Put them in a situation where it is safe to open up.
#2 – Talk with your child about the importance of goals.
If you are reading this article and thinking about goals for your children, I’m going to assume that you have already bought into the importance of setting goals. Talk with your child about why they are important. They need to know that goals will help them focus their energy and increase the amount they will learn. You don’t have to mention the boost in self-confidence that comes from reaching their goals, that will happen naturally. (If you need a refresher about the importance of goals, you could check these articles: Set Goals like Robin Hood, New Year’s Resolutions for Kids)
#3 – Ask your children in what areas they would like to improve.
Obviously we have goals in our mind for each of our kids. We want them to be perfect, and respectful, and hard-working, and brilliant. That’s because we love them and we want them to succeed so badly (or we want people to tell us what good parents we are). If a goal is going to be meaningful for a child, it has to be one that they came up with; something that is important to them. You can guide the conversation into certain areas but if you are the first one to say, “This year you’ll have a goal to get straight A’s”, you will lose them. The goal isn’t theirs anymore and they won’t feel attached to it. Remember, be supportive of the goals they come up with, but make sure to guide them into those goals that will help their growth.
#4 – Have your children write their goals down.
One of the most important aspects of goal setting is writing them down. It is important for your children to write them down themselves if they are old enough. It will help them take ownership of the goals they came up with. As parents we have to fight the temptation to write them down for them or to re-type them so they are more legible. Your child needs to see his goals in his or her own handwriting.
#5 – Make their goals fun.
Once you have their list of written goals, do some fun things to make it exciting. Maybe you can make a chart with boxes they get to fill in as they get closer to their goal. For example, if they have the goal to read 10 books, you could make a small poster with 10 boxes. Each time they finish a book, you download the book cover from the internet, print it, and glue it into one of the boxes. Or you could make a trail with a reward at the end. This is where you get to use your creativity to make the goals a little more fun. Just remember that it is a good idea to reward them when they meet a goal but don’t be tempted to bribe them or hold some big gift over their head. You’d be amazed to find that words of praise to them in front of the rest of the family goes just as far as a material gift.
#6 – Post their goals where they will see them every day
Whether you place them on the wall by their bed, on the bathroom mirror, or on the side of the television, their goals need to be seen as often as possible. The more they see them, the more they will subconsciously want to achieve them.
#7 – Review their goals often
This part is all on you. You need to review the goals often with your child, being careful not to harp on them all day about it. You aren’t their parole officer or prison warden. Your job is to check in with them often to see how things are coming and if there is anything you can do to help. If they have made a small amount of progress, praise them. If they haven’t done anything, sit down with them and work together on it. When they accomplish a small step, they will start to feel the excitement that accompanies accomplishment. This will feed their desire to have those feelings more often.
The greatest differences in the accomplishments of men don’t come from their natural brilliance or favorable social upbringing. The high achievers are those who learned at a young age to focus their efforts through goals they felt passionate about and then went to work to accomplish. Your children want to feel successful and they want to feel like they can accomplish anything. Carefully planning goals with your kids will give you the opportunity to be the hero that makes it happen.
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