+ Includes Free Goal Setting Printable For Kids +
Learning how to set and achieve goals is an important life skill that children can benefit greatly from. Even though as adults we fail to do this effectively. In fact, a study by the University of Scranton shows that 92 percent of people never achieve the goals they set for New Years!
So Why Should You Teach Your Child How To Set Goals?
The process of setting goals provides opportunities for your child to plan, prioritise and work towards getting the desired result. This in turn creates challenges to overcome and helps to develop self confidence, resilience and a sense of achievement.
The important thing to remember is that it’s not necessarily about whether they reach the goal or not. The purpose of goal setting is to teach your child to plan and take 100% responsibility for their actions.
It’s about taking ownership of the goals they want to achieve, rather than meeting the expectations of others.
The process of planning and working towards the goal is just as important as accomplishing it.
The Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “There is no wisdom equal to good planning.” [Mishkat]
Your sincerity in doing something shows in planning. So it’s important to teach your child how to plan, prioritise and produce to get the results they want. This will help them focus on tasks with intention and make better decisions.
How Do I Teach My Child Effective Goal Setting?
The process of setting and achieving goals for children will vary according to your child’s ability and understanding.
First explain what a goal is. Try to define it using an example your child can relate to, such as sport eg. training each day to play well in the next match and score at least 1 goal. Or helping around at home to earn and save enough pocket money, so they can buy their favourite toy.
Then it’s a good time to discuss intention.
While it’s important we do our best to achieve our goals, the final outcome is always up to Allah. This is a great reminder and lesson for children when setting goals.
And never say of anything, “Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,” except [when adding], “If Allah wills (in sha’ Allah).” [al-Kahf 18:23]
Let your child know that this doesn’t mean we don’t put in the effort or try our best. Sometimes things don’t go the way we planned, or the outcome isn’t what we hoped for.
That’s why knowing that this was Allah’s decree is important. It can help your child shift the focus from “I failed” to “It wasn’t meant to be, this time” or “there’s something Allah wants me to learn from this.”
Now Let’s Set Some Goals!
Discuss some possible goals with your child, making sure that goals are age appropriate. By letting your child choose their own goals they will be more motivated because they desire the end result as it has value to them.
For children aged 5-8 years they may find it harder to understand how their current behaviour affects the future. So goals need to be very simple and short term. Asking them a question, such as “What are you going to do before bedtime?” helps them focus on a specific action at a specific time. It may get a response like “brush my teeth”, or “pack my school bag” and that could be a goal to set for each day.
Children aged 8-11 are able to use goals to help set expectations and plan the actions required. Your child will have an understanding of future events beyond tomorrow, next week or next month. They will be able to set longer term goals, focusing on the steps needed to reach that goal. eg. I want to save $20 in the next 2 months so I can buy a new game. I’ll need to save my pocket money each week to do this.
Children are best suited to mapping out activity based goals, like saving money. This is because they are tangible and they can see an actual connection between effort and result.
Character based goals, such as being patient or kind, are more abstract and difficult to plan and track. So these are best taught through encouragement and by being an example to the child.
Areas that your child could set goals in include:
- Personal – something of interest specifically to your child, eg learning a new skill, reading a challenging a book, improving in a sport.
- School – to achieve a particular grade or improve in a particular area.
- Money – save a set amount by a particular date to spend on something specific.
- Health – increasing the amount of healthy, natural food eaten or decreasing the amount of junk food. Exercise or fitness goals.
Tasks that can help your child achieve goals include:
- Chores – Small jobs around the home or to help others.
- Limits – Instead of imposing limits on your child, encourage them to set their own limits as part of the goal strategy. For example, to be able to get the grade I want in Maths, I need to study more, so I’ll spend less time watching T.V after school.
- Learning – Scheduled practise, training or learning.
Talk to your child about the goals they’d like to set and be sure to write them down!
Studies show that people who write down their goals are 33% more successful in achieving them, compared to those who keep goals in their heads.
So let’s put those goals down on paper….
In the 1980s George T. Doran introduced a concept consisting of 5 specific steps to achieve effective goal setting. He named this process S.M.A.R.T goals, which is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-targeted. Since then there have been slight variations to the definition of S.M.A.R.T but the principles remain the same.
So let’s begin planning out our S.M.A.R.T Goals!
Time To Get S.M.A.R.T
Being specific when developing and defining the goal is more effective than telling yourself a general statement such as “I want to get better at basketball.” Instead a specific goal should be something like “I want to be able to get more than 6 points per game”
To create a specific goal complete the following statement:
I will (end goal or result):
by doing (what?):
To be able to see if you are making progress and know when you have reached your goal, it needs to be measurable. This means that there needs to be steps along the way that can be assessed to see how effective they are.
For example, if your child’s goal is to save at least $20 in 3 months and they plan to do it by saving $2 every week, then they can measure this by counting the money saved each week or each month to see if they are on track.
It’s important to help your child set goals that are achievable. To do this it’s best to make sure the difficulty level is moderate.
If the goal is too difficult to reach progress will be slow and your child will lose motivation and become discouraged. If the goal is too easy the important lessons learned when being challenged will be missed.
You want your child to have to make an effort and show persistence, while feeling a sense of progress and accomplishment.
Motivation starts goals. Persistence usually finishes them.
Your child needs to desire the end goal in order to be motivated to reach it.
I know it’s tempting to squeeze in goals that you’d like your child to achieve, such as academically, but the goal needs to be of value to them and something they feel is worthy of trying to achieve.
So if there is a specific area you want your child to improve in, rather than setting them the goal yourself, discuss the issue. See if they recognise the need for improvement or change (it may not even be on their radar!) and talk about the benefits in doing so.
Relevance also means the goal should have a purpose, like improving their skills in a particular area or gaining something of value to them. Setting a goal just for the sake of it is not going to be of any real benefit to them.
A realistic time frame needs to be set for the goal to be achieved. Consider how long it will take, is there a specific deadline? Remember to keep the time frame short for younger children, eg daily or before/after doing a specific activity.
Now would also be a great time to work alongside your child and set a goal for yourself!
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Praising Effort Not Ability
Encourage your child as they work towards their goal. There are bound to be times when they hit a roadblock or lose motivation. Praise them for the effort they are putting in (not their ability)! Especially when things are hard or get difficult.
This can also be a great time to talk to your child about the times you’ve struggled to meet your goals and how you continued to try.
If your child is able to reach the goal they set, praise all the work and effort that went into it, not just the end result. Avoid using phrases like “you’re so good at….”, “you’re so clever/talented.” as these place a focus on the child’s ability, not the effort they put in.
If they weren’t able to reach their goal, discuss why your child thinks they weren’t able to do it. Do they think it was an internal or external reason? What could they do differently next time?
Encourage them to try setting the goal again (if possible), or setting a slightly different goal, this time using what they’ve learnt from their first experience.
Some handy resources are below:
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