by Christina Katz
We are living in an age of constant interruption. In the future, when it comes to setting and accomplishing goals, 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 their energy 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 play a supporting role in helping your child accomplish whatever goal is chosen, but it must be your child’s goal, not yours.
2. Emphasize fun - 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 on their own, 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 too often, perhaps you have not spent enough time considering their best qualities. There are not merely five or ten 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. 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 unstick a stuck child. Brainstorm with them and then let them do it.
5. Praise progress - If your child is continually focused outward, measuring where he or she stands in comparison to others can rob them of personal power. Instead of encouraging your child to be the generic best, encourage your child to achieve his or her 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. 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 towards, 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 personal growth while making valuable contributions to the whole should always be the plan. Stay the course and things will usually work themselves out.
Christina Katz 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.
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