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Here’s a little more information that can help both you and your child to become real pros at goal setting.
Specific GoalsTo be helpful, goals must be clear and concrete. When goals are specific, they tell your child exactly what, when, and how much is expected of him or her. You might help by asking questions like this:
- What are you going to do?
- Why do you want to do this?
- How are you going to do it?
Teach your child how to use action words with goals, such as, “Learn,” “Reach,” or “Plan.” It’s best to phrase goals in positive, not negative, terms.
A goal can be as simple as improving results on spelling tests. Maybe your child missed three words on the last test. If your child says, “I want to be a better speller,” help him or her frame the goal in more specific terms, such as: “I want to improve my spelling so that I miss no more than one word on the next test. To help achieve this goal, I will study my spelling words for five minutes every day this week.”
Measurable GoalsIf a goal is specific, you can more easily measure it. Then you know if you are making progress. How will your child measure his or her goals? (On a sliding scale from 1–10? Hit or miss? Success or failure?) Help your child take stock of where he or she is along the way. Measurable milestones also help maintain motivation. As a parent, you can help your child to take “bite-sized pieces,” says Gerber. Learning how to attack short-term goals—like results on a spelling quiz—make it easier to reach the bigger goals in life.
Other examples of measurable goals? Maybe your fourth grader wants at least one or two new friends. She might move toward this goal by planning one play date each week. Or, maybe your junior wants to have his license by the end of summer. What are the concrete steps that will put him in the driver's seat?
Attainable GoalsAsk yourself, is this a realistic goal my child is likely to achieve? A goal should help your child to stretch a bit but not become overwhelmed. If it’s too easy or too hard your child will simply ignore it altogether.
Another place where people get lost is with setting too many goals, says Jeff Rice, principal of one of the Briarwood Schools in Houston, TX, serving students with LD and developmental delays. Because so many things compete for our attention, it’s helpful to limit to no more than three to five goals at a time. You need to focus your efforts to be successful. Once your child sets a goal, have him or her put it in writing. To enhance accountability, you or a counselor, therapist, or mentor can sign this document.
Realistic GoalsThe whole point of a goal is to get results. Think about what will happen when your child reaches a goal. And offer rewards for each goal and mini-goal that your child accomplishes.
Your child won’t get results, though, if the goal isn’t realistic. As a parent, you certainly want to reinforce persistence and resilience—you want your child to know that working hard is a big piece of reaching goals. However, what if your child wants to move from getting a C in English to an A within one month? Will there even be enough assignments to make this possible? A first step might be to talk with the teacher to find out.
Or, what if your child has set a goal of becoming a physician but has faired poorly with science courses throughout high school? Don’t kill the passion, but also don’t enable a dead-end pursuit. Perhaps you can help reframe this long-term goal into a Plan B, a plan that helps your child pursue interests in a more realistic way. Ask what it is about being a doctor that attracts him. If it’s working in a hospital, maybe you can encourage a career as an x-ray technician instead of a radiologist. Then help develop short-term and intermediate goals that move your child closer to this reframed long-term goal. One day, your child may find that this hospital job brings great satisfaction.
Download the SMART Goals Worksheet.