Seven Ways to Teach Goal-Setting to Reluctant Kids

We are living in an age of constant interruption. So when it comes to setting and accomplishing goals in the future, kids who learn how to concentrate and focus will have a distinct advantage over those who cannot. We need to help our children learn how and when to put their blinders on so they can apply focused goal-setting to challenges of their own choosing. Achieving personal goals helps kids channel the energy they have today productively, and inspires them to become more confident action-takers in the future.

Kids are not lazy or unmotivated these days; it’s simply easier than ever for them to be distracted and disengaged. As a parent, you can encourage your children to practice healthy goal-setting.

Follow these suggestions and you will notice your kids stepping up to set and meet new challenges that bring smiles to their faces. As for your role, get ready to cheer them on and give them credit for their contributions as any good coach would.

1. Let them steer. Choose an age-appropriate, just out-of-reach goal. Be careful you don’t interject your own desires into this process. For a child who is unsure about what goal to set, be patient and offer many choices until something appeals. You will be playing a supporting role helping your child accomplish whatever goal is chosen, but it must be your child’s goal, not yours.

2. Emphasize fun. If your child is overweight, focusing overly on weight loss as their goal is not going to help, but it just might scar them. Forget the problems you think your child needs to solve and emphasize the fun of setting and reaching goals instead. Let children who have become too sedentary in the past come up with goals like joining a team or training for a race for the fun of it, not just to get mom and dad off their backs. Share stories of goals you’ve set and met to inspire them.

3. Embrace strengths. Every person has strengths and weaknesses. There are no exceptions to this rule. If you only mirror your child’s negative qualities and mention them constantly, perhaps you have not spent enough time considering their best qualities. There are not merely five or 10 positive qualities that describe people; there are hundreds. Pick up a little book called Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Then go through the book and circle the words you think describe your child. Mention these qualities often and watch your child’s confidence blossom.

4. Assist with challenges. Offer yourself as a sounding board when kids run into challenges reaching their goals, but don’t solve their problems for them. Instead, listen to their concerns and ask them questions. Get them thinking about various approaches that might help. If you have input, instead of telling them what to do, ask if they think any of your ideas might be good ways to offset challenges. Don’t feel internal pressure to un-stick a stuck child. Brainstorm with them and then let them do it.

5. Praise progress. If your child is continually focused outward, measuring where they stand in comparison to others, this robs them of personal power. Instead of encouraging your child to be the generic best, encourage your child to achieve their personal best. Celebrate the fruition of this expression no matter how it measures up with others. In this way, a ribbon for ‘Most Improved’ can be viewed as just as valuable as First Place or MVP.

6. Respect weaknesses. Just as strengths can be discovered and flexed for increasing success, weaknesses should be acknowledged and honored too. The idea of respecting weaknesses rather than denying or trying to correct them may seem strange. But consider whether or not the investment of time and energy to turn weaknesses around is worthwhile. Sometimes flaws teach kids valuable things they need to learn about themselves. For example, a forward who can’t score might make a better midfielder on the soccer field. A dancer who can’t do acrobatic tricks might have a strong sense of showmanship on stage. A scattered student in the classroom might be a talented artist in the studio. Forgive weaknesses and pursue the undervalued abilities they may be trying to point you toward instead.

7. Play the long game. As your child focuses on setting and reaching personal goals, things may not always go quite the way anyone expected. Life has a way of bringing twists and turns to the table. This means short-term victories don’t always pan out as expected, even after much time and energy has been invested. When disappointments happen, and they will, help your child focus on the big picture. Getting the most personal satisfaction out of the process and achieving the most personal growth while making valuable contributions to the whole in the long run should always be the plan. Stay the course and things will usually work themselves out.

Double-dog dares for younger kids

You can help prepare your kids to meet life’s challenges later by turning everyday tasks into fun double-dog dares:

Complete a chore in a specific amount of time

Find the groceries on the shopping list

Create a ‘to-do’ list for something they already learned how to do

Teach something they learned to another family member

Complete a puzzle all by themselves

Build something they have never built before

Make up an invention that solves a problem around the house

Cook something using a new recipe

Goals for older kids

By helping tweens and teens choose goals that suit their aptitudes, you can increase their willingness to take safe risks in the future. As your children get older, encourage them to set goals that are just beyond what they think they can accomplish like…

Running a 5K

Installing an exhibit of their art

Creating a healthy eating plan

Submitting writing to a contest

Raising money for a cause they support

Trying out for something they are not already good at

Sticking to a new plan for one month

Saving money to make a dream come true

Christina is an author, journalist and writing coach who has learned that constructive engagement always follows genuine interest no matter the age of the goal-setter. She is the author of The Writer’s Workout, 366 Tips, Tasks & Techniques From Your Writing Career Coach.

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