Setting Goals with Kids

With the holiday season winding down, many of us begin to anticipate the upcoming year. A new year is often thought of as a time to set resolutions, or goals, that we hope to achieve. A new year is also a perfect time to begin teaching kids about setting goals! Teaching your child to set goals can not only help them take responsibility, but also helps foster a positive “can-do” attitude and increases self-esteem. 

Research has shown that when a person wants to reach a goal, they are much more likely to be intrinsically motivated and ultimately, successful. This means that instead of setting a goal for your child, it is much more beneficial to set a goal with your child. It is helpful to have a conversation with your child to narrow down potential goals. Ask your child what they wish they could achieve, or what they would feel proud to overcome—these are some great ways to begin the conversation and start brainstorming!

Now that you have brainstormed a list of goals and narrowed down which one is most motivating to your child, you are probably wondering how you can help your child reach their goal. Luckily, there is an acronym that makes it easy to remember how you can help set your child up for success—goals should always be SMART! SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.

S – Is the goal specific? What would you like to accomplish? The more specific the goal, the   more focused you can be in reaching that goal.
M – Is the goal measurable? How will you know you have reached your goal? It is important to be clear about what you are working towards.
A – Is the goal achievable? Is it challenging, but not impossible? Taking it one small step at a time can help ensure success.
R – Is the goal relevant? Does thinking about reaching the goal inspire excitement? Being passionate about what you are working towards is a key to success.
T – Is the goal timely? Do you have a deadline by which you want to reach your goal? Setting an end date can help jump start motivation to begin working towards your goal.

Now that we know what is involve in a SMART goal, let’s go over a few examples of how to make goals SMART:

Original goal: I’m going to eat healthier.
SMART goal: Every day for one month, I am going to eat a piece of fruit at lunchtime.

Original goal: Reducing screen time. 
SMART goal: Instead of watching 30 minutes of television at night before bed, I am going to read three books with mom or dad.   

Some final tips for making goal setting successful:

  • Praise your child for working towards their goal—you are their biggest source of support and accountability! You could say something like, “Wow! I’m really impressed with how hard you are working towards your goal.”
  • Track goals in a place where the whole family can easily see it! Some families may choose on the wall above the child’s bed, or on the refrigerator. Tracking in a highly visible way not only keeps the child motivated, but will also remind adults to check in about the goal.
  • State goals positively. Replace negative language such as “I’m NOT going to watch television anymore,” with, “I am going to reduce the amount of time I watch television.”

The process of creating goals provides moments for connection between parents and children, while instilling a “can-do” attitude that will set kids up for success!

Whitney Turner
Psychology Intern at The Children's Center

NOTE: THIS INFORMATION SHOULD NOT BE USED FOR THE DIAGNOSIS OR TREATMENT OF A MENTAL HEALTH CONDITION. IF YOU HAVE ADDITIONAL CONCERNS, CALL US AT 801-582-5534 (SALT LAKE) OR 801-966-4251 (KEARNS) TO LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES FOR CHILDREN.