Must-have skill for children #3: setting clear goals

It is natural for young children to not take responsibility for their own lives. The shift from being taken care of to taking care of themselves is not something they tend to think about. As a result, they usually do not make any goals or they let others set their goals. The younger they are, the more they tend to be short-sighted as well, but at a certain point, it is time for them to learn about long-term visions and plans–which is where the parents come in.

It is important to teach your children to take control of their future, guiding them toward their infinite potential. You can do this by working on their goal-setting skills. Many do not do this in the most effective and productive way possible, so here are some tips on properly setting goals:

Be Process-Focused, Not Result-Focused

The most important thing to know about setting goals is that they are not meant to be met, but to be strived for. They are there to give your children a sense of purpose that propels them forward and puts them in the correct mindset. They give an idea of what the children are going for and what is important to them.  

With the right focus, they can be better tomorrow than they are today, which is the simplest goal that trumps all goals. The motive for goal setting is to improve themselves, so remind your children to not get stuck on reaching the goal because they may only be disappointed. They may become too hard on themselves and feel perpetually defeated because they are dependent on the outcome. Instead, they should focus on the process. This way, they will stay motivated with a growth mindset.  

Remind them of this Les Brown quote: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” The goal is the moon, and the true goal is to get closer and closer to it. Regardless of whether they finally get there, they will end up in a much better place than they would have otherwise.

Decide on the Importance of Numbers

Regarding results, it is important to let each child decide whether numbers will be important to him or her. This depends on the individual, and everyone is different, which JEI cannot stress enough. That is why we have a comprehensive diagnostic system to assess each student.

Goals should always be clear, but there has been some debate lately about how specific they should be. Some people are fueled by numbers that show their improvement. For example, someone could be trying to get a score of 1600 on the SATs. Then, it would help to monitor and record every practice test, just to see how close that person can get to it. Some people have to see the progress in a clear and precise manner through measurements and records.  

However, some people do not work well with numbers. They get stressed out and blinded by the stats, which breeds a plethora of negative emotions, such as dissatisfaction, comparison to their past selves or others, frustration, and disappointment. They become consumed with reaching the goal, so instead of recognizing and appreciating that they are becoming smarter or more knowledgeable, they get angry at themselves for not hitting the perfect score–especially when other people have.

Play around with different types of goals to see which works best for your children.

Set Realistic Goals

That being said, another way to fight off the defeat that comes with not reaching goals is to set realistic goals that are likelier to be reached. Break up a big goal into smaller goals. With the SAT example, break it up over periods of time. Focus on a section at a time, and even that section could be broken up into smaller sections or specific recurring concepts.

It can be intimidating and can invite procrastination if your children decide on a huge goal that feels impossible, such as, “Be the first human on planet Jupiter.” However, if they organize and research, they will be able to make more realistic moves toward this big goal by setting up the smaller ones like the rungs on a ladder leading to Jupiter.  

However, then the question becomes: is it realistic to land on Jupiter? Can a goal be possible, and if so, can it be reached within a certain timeframe? Make sure the aspirations are not too far-fetched, like becoming an Olympic gold medalist in figure skating at the age of 28 after training for two years.

Always Question the Intention

Children will not feel as strongly about a goal if it has no intrinsic value for them. If they wanted to get all A’s to prove to themselves they could do it and to get to their dream college, then they will be much more motivated and excited.  

However, goals are hard to reach or even climb toward if the intention behind them is not good or strong enough. If your children think they should get all A’s on their report card to look better than other students, they will not be as motivated. Students should ask why it is important that they reach a specific number. Is 1600 on the SATs really going to make or break a chance at their dream college? What would it mean for them to get into that specific college? Watch out for intentions that are more harmful than helpful, such as ones that feed the ego, primarily serve other people, or depend on extrinsic values (e.g., praise, money, fame).

If children set goals, and they are not working toward them, it is good that they take a step back and ask themselves what their intentions are. Why did they set this goal in the first place? If they had felt motivated, but do not any longer, what changed?  

Take Responsibility for Failure

There are a few ways children can take full responsibility for their goals. The first one is by setting a timeline. It is easy for children to set a goal and think, “Eh, I got all the time in the world to get there.” For this very reason, schools set deadlines and due dates–otherwise, the lack of self-discipline leads to lack of self-motivation, which then results in nothing getting done. Sure, it is all about the process, but the process should not last indefinitely.  

The second way is to further strengthen self-discipline through habit building. Repetitive action is key; we have all heard of “practice makes perfect.” This sets up a routine, which sets up a habit, which then paves the way to the goal. It would be impossible to get anything close to a 1600 if they do not take the time to practice the SATs at regular intervals. It would help them to decide on a specific time every day so they make sure they work consistently toward the goal.

The final method is to create a consequence. Although reaching a big goal is not a priority, achieving smaller goals on the way to achieving that big goal is essential. Children need to learn to hold themselves accountable, so they should decide on a consequence if they keep putting off the smaller goals. They could promise to mow the lawn for the whole summer or donate their allowances to a charity for a month. This will teach the children that their words and actions hold meaning and weight.

Setting clear goals is an important skill for children if they want to live their lives to the fullest. Remember that JEI Learning Center believes in each individual’s infinite potential, but without goals in mind, it will be hard for such individuals to even begin exploring all those possibilities.

Teach your children how to envision their future, set appropriate goals, and develop the discipline to reach the next level in their lives. For further help, JEI Learning Center is available for help through our many programs, all of which focus on creating goals toward self-improvement. Find a center near you now!