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7 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Focus and Tackle New Challenges

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

Kids are not lazy or unmotivated; it is easier than ever before for them to become distracted and disengaged. 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 face. As for your role, get ready to cheer them on and give them credit for their accomplishments as any good coach would.

1. Let them steer. Encourage each child to 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 choices until something appeals to them. You play a supporting role helping your child accomplish whatever goal is chosen, so it must be your child’s goal, not yours.

Emphasize fun. If your child is overweight, nagging them about weight loss is not going to help them choose losing weight as a goal, and you might scar them. Forget the problems you think your child needs to solve. Instead, emphasize the fun of setting and reaching a goal. Let children who have become too sedentary in the past come up with their own goal, like joining a team or training for a race for the fun of it, not merely to get a nagging parent off their back. Share stories of goals you’ve set and met to inspire your child, but don’t be pushy.

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 often, perhaps you have not spent enough time considering your child’s best qualities. There are not merely five or 10 positive qualities that describe people; there are hundreds! Pick up a little book called StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Go through the book and circle the words you think describe your child. Mention these qualities often and watch your child’s confidence blossom.

Assist with challenges. Offer yourself as a sounding board when kids run into challenges reaching goals, but don’t solve their problems for them. Instead, listen to their concerns and ask them questions. Get them thinking about various approaches they could try. Instead of telling them what to do, ask if they think any of your ideas are helpful. Don’t give in to internal pressure to unstick a stuck child. Brainstorm with them and then let them motivate themselves.

Praise progress. If a child is continually focused outward, measuring where they stand in comparison to others robs a child 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 to others. A ribbon for ‘Most Improved’ can be viewed just as valuable as ‘First Place’ or ‘MVP.’

Uncover silver linings. Just as strengths can be discovered and flexed for increasing success, weaknesses should be acknowledged and honored, too. Respecting weaknesses rather than denying them 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. 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. Teach your child to forgive weaknesses and pursue undervalued abilities they may be pointing toward.

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 time and energy has been invested. When disappointments happen, and they will, help your child focus on the big picture. Getting personal satisfaction out of the process and achieving personal growth while making valuable contributions to the whole can never be emphasized enough. Encourage kids to stay the course and things will usually work themselves out in the long-run.

Double-dog dares for younger kids

You can help prepare kids to meet life’s challenges 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 to challenge older kids

Helping tweens and teens choose goals that suit their aptitudes 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 certain they are good at

  • Sticking to a new plan for one month

  • Saving money to make a dream come true

Books on goal-setting for kids:

  • What Do You Stand For? For Teens: A Guide To Building Character by Barbara Lewis

  • Every Kid’s Guide to Goals: How to Choose, Set, and Achieve Goals That Matter to You by Karleen Tauszik

  • Strengths Based Parenting: Developing Your Children's Innate Talents by Mary Reckmeyer, Ph.D., and Jennifer Robison

  • StrengthFinder 2.0 From Gallup and Tom Rath

Christina is an author, journalist, and writing coach who has learned that joy follows genuine interest, no matter the age of the goal-setter. She encourages her daughter to build her schedule around daring to do the things she loves.

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