Teaching Kids to Set Goals

In Family, Tips & Advice by Janet ArnoldLeave a Comment

Many of us do it.  Come January 1st (or the 2nd for most!), we set a goal for ourselves and vow to work hard to achieve that goal. But what about setting goals with kids? Do you encourage perseverance in your child? Or more importantly, do you talk with your kids about how to attain them?

As parents we may have identified goals for our kids, but not necessary ones that we have truly set out. Goals that are written, posted and referred to frequently. If you have ever read Stephen R. Covey’s worldwide best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you would know that he writes about the fundamental lessons of personal change and growth. Many educators have taken Covey’s concepts and applied them to their classrooms.  Utilizing these ideas to create productive students who are aware of the choices they make as academic learners. Parents can take this one step further by reinforcing this behavior in the home.

The Importance of Setting Goals

The process of setting goals allows children to choose what they want to achieve and a sense of pride in accomplishing those goals. Teaching our children to set goals helps them to gain effective life skills. Experiencing the results of those goals may result in:

  • Improved confidence
  • Increased academic performance
  • Greater resilience to managing challenging situations
  • Making positive choices
  • Motivation to constantly achieve and set new goals

11-year-old Langley thinks, “goals are important because they help you get a more organized life and you have something to look foreword to and reaching your goals will feel good.”


Goals should be set regarding various topic areas and for kids of varying ages.  We can help our chidlren strive to pursue a balance between schoolwork, extracurricular activities, friends, habits and family. The first step in setting a goal is to ensure they are  SMART goals. This means goals are:

Specific accurate and small goals that are expressed positively. So, instead of writing, “To not get in trouble in class” consider writing, “To listen and pay attention in class.”

Measurable – set an accurate goal, putting in dates, and timelines so kids experience satisfaction when achieving them.  Tracking and frequently monitoring goals assists chidlren to determine if they have met that goal. If your child is not meeting their goal, they can adjust it or analyze why. After, they then can take the necessary actions to accomplish a new goal.

Attainable – This helps them avoid feeling overwhelmed. It is essential to have goals written down to make them more meaningful. Don’t forget to include the steps required to reach that goal.  Example: Goal – Earn better marks.  Steps – 1. Ask for help 2. Complete homework every night 3. Hand in assignments on time 4. Read 30 minutes a day

Realistic – children should set goals that they actually have control over because there is nothing worse than failing to achieve a personal goal for reasons beyond one’s control.

Timely – give each goal a priority and focus on those that are important based on your current situation.  Long-terms goals aren’t important, however, make sure your child identifies smaller goals that act as steps to reaching the larger goal.

Examples of Goals

There are numerous types of goals. A goal should be individualized to that child and therefore based on their challenges as well as their strengths.  Goals should be what your child wants, not only what you want for them. As a result, when kids set their own goals, they are more likely going to be motivated to achieve them.

Six-year-old Finn says, “I want to try a new food.  I want to eat cut up tomatoes because they are healthy.” For Luke (8 years old), it is about “getting a better life, better grades and job you like”. This year he is hoping to “learn how to do a 360 jump” when he skies with his family.

School goals can include more than getting good grades. Langley (11 yrs. old) states “I want to earn a school medal. The different medals that students can earn are leadership, empathy, research, French, and more. I hope I earn the leadership medal.”

Where do you begin?

Most importantly, how can we get our kids to set goals when at some point our goals never came to fruition?

  1. Start with a goal that builds on your child’s strengths (don’t forget to add the steps to achieve that goal)
  2. Write it on a piece of paper with a timeline and post it in an area where it is visible everyday
  3. Create a charting system to track the goal
  4. Review your child’s progress weekly or biweekly (no more than monthly)
  5. Reinforce their success
  6. Be a role model. Set and monitor your own goals
  7. Encourage your child (and you) not to give up!

From the words of  Zig Ziglar (was an American author, salesman, and motivational speaker), “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

Thank you to the children who shared their goals.  Good luck in achieving them!


Meet the Author | Janet Arnold

Janet Arnold is the Mother to two boys. She is a Behaviour Consultant, Author/Blogger, and an accredited Triple P Practitioner (Standard Stepping Stones) who has a strong background in Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA). She is a High Five Trainer. Since 1996, Janet has worked with children, their families, and individuals in clinical and educational settings.

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