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Goal Setting Tips for Children: Parent's Role

It's Never Too Early

Occasionally you'll hear someone say that they aren't a goal-oriented person, or that they don't really know how to set goals. Most likely, they actually set goals every day: Every time they make a "To Do" list for themselves or their "honey" or leave the house expecting to arrive at their destination at a particular time, they are goal-setting without even realizing it.

Your child does the same thing. He may not think about it as goal-setting, but he sets goals for himself all the time. He may want to ride a bike like his big brother, save enough money to trade in his hand-me-down bike for a new model, or score a goal in his next soccer game.  When he was about a year-and-a-half, my son, Micah, badly wanted to be able to jump.  When he started trying, he would bend his knees, crouch way down and hurl himself upward, but his cute, little, flat feet never left the ground. Finally, with enough practice, he got some air.

If a toddler can set a goal and find a way to accomplish it, anyone can!

Starting early

As Micah showed, it's never too early for a child to set goals. Having goals will help your child to:

  • be successful
  • give him a purpose
  • help him learn to manage his time and resources, and 
  • give him a sense of accomplishment.

Goal setting tips

I've found that people are often good at the goal-setting part, they just have no idea what to do next. Here are some basic things you can teach your child about achieving his goals:

  • Set a goal. First of all, your child needs to have a goal. If your child doesn't already have one, have him come up with one. Most times, as I said, he probably already has a goal; he just may not have defined it that way. Have him write his goal down and explain that sharing it with another person is important, because he or she can help with accountability and problem solving.
  • Break it down into steps. Second, ask him to think about what he needs to do to reach his goal. Let him come up with some ideas. Some goals are simple, like needing to get a load of laundry done today. The only thing you have to decide in order to accomplish that goal is what you want to include in the load and when you're going to do it.

Other goals are more complex, like making an Olympic team. Goals like that are so lofty, they need to be broken down into smaller, intermediate sub-goals. The sub-goals work like stair steps. Each time your child achieves a sub-goal she moves one step closer to the big one. Most people fall short of their goals because they fail at setting up sub-goals.

Here's how goal setting works in practice. Let's say your child's goal is to run a mile in under ten minutes:

  1. Set a goal: Running a mile in ten minutes.
  2. Break the goal up into intermediate sub-goals. 

>Buy running shoes

>Find a place to run and measure off a mile using the car odometer. (Find landmarks at the quarter mile markers as well)

>Run a quarter mile

>Run a half mile

>Run three quarters of a mile

>Run one mile

>Run a timed mile.

>Run a mile is less than twelve minutes.

>Run a mile is less than eleven minutes.

>Run a mile in less than ten minutes.

Setting deadlines

Have your child pick a specific date for accomplishing his goal, write it on the family calendar and highlight it. That is his deadline. Then, with that in mind, have him work backward to figure out deadlines for each sub goal, and enter those sub-goals on the calendar too.

Developing a plan

Now that he has a goal and sub-goals, your child needs to decide what has to happen in order to accomplish his first sub goal. Maybe he needs to put some other activities on hold so he has more time to devote to his goal. He may need to do some research, get more sleep, or set a specific time each day he will practice. Have him write his plan down.

Parents' role

Be interested. Ask him how his plan is going and help him trouble shoot.

Celebrate success!

Don't forget to celebrate when milestones are reached. It is easy to be so focused on the final goal that the accomplishment of each mini goal can get overlooked. Make sure to give him a hug, tell him he's doing a great job and how impressed you are with his persistence and discipline. There doesn't have to be a reward for each mini goal. The sense of accomplishment should be reward enough, especially if the end goal is one he really wants to reach.

Erin Mirabella is a two-time Olympic track cyclist, mother, MomsTeam's track cycling expert, and children's book author.  Her books, Shawn Sheep The Soccer Star and Gracie Goat's Big Bike Race are available online at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, borders.com, velogear.com, and at The Olympic Training Centers and select stores. For more information visit Erin's website.

Created March 2, 2010


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