Helping Children Set Gracious Goals 

Whether it be finishing a personal project, starting a new hobby, or wanting to do more of “this” or less of “that,” our culture has become immersed in goal setting, especially around a new year. When we set and stick to goals we’ve thoughtfully set, we teach ourselves and our kids values like responsibility, time management, self-confidence, resilience, perseverance, and self-discipline (Katie Hurley, LCSW, PBS Kids for Parents). Goal setting can also “help bolster mental health by giving children a much-needed sense of control and purpose” (Positive Parenting Project), which children and youth who have experienced trauma are especially seeking.

“Research shows us that childhood is a prime age to start introducing our children to goal setting in order to help them to learn to persevere” (The Idea Room), so for kids who have already had to persevere through a hard start in life, goal setting can help them persevere through something they are passionate about rather than fearful of. The new year is just a few weeks away, so we want to share some insightful information on how you can help your foster or adopted child set practical and gracious goals and new year’s resolutions.

Know Your Role

Before discussing how to help your child set a goal, we need to start by warning you of a mistake many parents make, which is, accidentally or intentionally setting the goal for them. Katie Hurley, LCSW and Whitney Turner, PsyD both express how a child’s lack of inner drive is often a result of parents establishing the goals for the child rather than with their child. Because of this, the goal your child makes needs to be something that they originate and are genuinely passionate about. If you make the goal for them, they will likely feel less attached and committed to it than they would for a goal they create independently.

So, instead of playing the role of goal creator, take the role of organizer, facilitator, and cheerleader. Help them to organize their thoughts into a clear goal, help facilitate mini checkpoints, and no matter what, be their biggest cheerleader while they strive after their dream. Whether it be finishing a simple school project or faithfully practicing the instrument or sport they love, supporting your child in the creation of their goal, finding times to intentionally check in on their progress, and encouraging them along the way will all have major impacts on their likelihood of sticking with and completing their goal.

Where to Start

Maybe, your child wants to learn how to tie a shoe, or maybe, he or she wants to make all As in school next semester; regardless of whether the goal is skill-based, grade-based, or habit-based; short-term or long-term, all goal-setting needs to begin at the same place (Oxford Learning). That is: what will the goal be about? Start by having a short conversation with your child to understand their hopes and passions (Whitney Turner, PsyD, The Children’s Center Utah). From there, work together to craft a specific goal related to their thoughts! Here are some questions to help get you started:

  1. What is something new you want to do?
  2. What is something you want to do more often?
  3. What is something you have wanted to do in the past but put off doing?
  4. What do you wish you could achieve?
  5. What would you be proud of overcoming?

What Makes a Good Goal

People everywhere will tell you different criteria on how to create a good goal, but thankfully, there is an acronym that makes it easy to remember. According to Whitney Turner, PsyD, “goals should always be SMART! SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely”

  1. S—Specific: What would you like to accomplish?Kids love to generalize when it comes to setting goals, so help them get as specific as possible in what they would like to accomplish. The more specific the goal, the more focused you can be in reaching that goal.
  2. M—Measurable: How will you know you have reached your goal?Help your children to break down their goals into smaller, manageable, and measurable steps, so they can track their progress.
  3. A—Achievable: Is it challenging but not impossible?Make sure the goals your child is setting are achievable but also slightly challenging, so they are pushed to reach outside of their comfort zone while also still succeeding in the end.
  4. R—Relevant: Does thinking about reaching the goal inspire excitement?As mentioned previously, it is imperative that your child is passionate about the topic of their goal. This will help them to stick with it even when times get hard, or they experience various setbacks.
  5. T—Timely: Do you have a deadline by which you want to reach your goal?If we do not set a deadline for our goals, we may never do them. Help your child establish an appropriate deadline for what they want to accomplish. Whether it be days, weeks, months, or years, a clear deadline will help them keep their eyes on the prize.

With Family Support

Finally, something worth considering is getting the whole family involved in setting and maintaining goals together. According to Katie Hurley, LCSW, “When families make goal setting a family effort, they learn to support each other. This fosters a family environment based on cooperation instead of one grounded in competition. It also reinforces the fact that although all people are individuals with their own unique interests, we can all work together and provide support and help when needed.”

“The process of creating goals provides moments for connection between parents and children, while instilling a ‘can-do’ attitude that will set kids up for success!” included Whitney Turner, PsyD.

Whether your family chooses to pursue goals independently or together, be encouraged by the words of Dr. David Cross from the TCU Karen Purvis Institute of Child Development: “Victory is not monumental change, but the incremental change that comes from thousands of small yet meaningful victories.” So, no matter how slow or small the change comes, continue to encourage your child and yourself, for victory is on the way!

Helping your child set goals for the new year? Share them with us by tagging @familiesareforevertraining in your posts on Facebook and Instagram!