Now that your child has settled in to a school routine, it’s a good time to talk about setting goals and working toward them. This is a life skill, as there will always be things your child wants to achieve or areas where she needs to improve.

Does your child have a goal for this school year? It may be to get a higher grade in math, read a popular book series independently, or participate more frequently in class discussions. To help get the ball rolling, we’ve got tips and strategies to guide your child through goal setting.

1. Empower him/her to choose the goal.

If your child sets a goal for himself and genuinely commits to it, he’s more likely to be motivated to see it through to the end. A well-established goal setting tool is the SMART acronym, which states that goals should be:

Specific: Can he define the precise details of the goal?
Measurable: How will he know if progress is being made, or when the goal is reached?
Attainable: The end result should be something he can realistically accomplish.
Realistic: Are his personal desires connected to the goal?
Time-bound: What is the target end date?

2. Figure out the “why”.

To make sure a goal is meaningful, discuss it with your child and listen closely to her responses. You can ask questions like “Why do you want to go after this goal?” or “When you achieve this, how do you think you will feel?” Saying the reasons out loud will reinforce her belief that it is something worth pursuing.

3. Create a plan.

Big goals can seem intimidating if they’re not broken down into manageable components. Brainstorm with your child and list the steps that will be required. For example, if the goal is to be on time for school every day, write up a morning schedule that identifies every task (wake up, get dressed, have breakfast, and so on) and allocates a specific amount of time to each one.

4. Measure results.

Your child needs to see that he is moving closer to his goal. One approach is to record quantitative data – for example, writing down the number of silent-reading minutes he completes each day. Another approach is a visual tracking chart, such as a calendar where a big check mark is added if he remembers to pack everything in his school bag. Whatever tracking system you use, make it highly visual and post it where it can be frequently reviewed and admired.

5. Make adjustments.

Your child may set a goal that seemed do-able at the time, but circumstances can (and will) change. This is okay. Goals can be flexible, especially if your child is on the right track. She may simply need extra time or added support to get there. Anticipate potential obstacles so that you and your child can respond and re-evaluate the goal, if necessary.

6. Celebrate wins.

When your child reaches a goal, it’s a big deal. Celebrate his accomplishment, and be sure to praise him along the way, too. Recognize his ongoing efforts, along with any short-term gains. To encourage feelings of inner pride, make comments like: “Wow, you must feel really good that you did what you set out to do.”

7. Respect the journey.

Not every goal is successfully achieved. Even if your child doesn’t reach her goal, she has likely learned valuable lessons from the experience. Avoid simplistic notions of success and failure, and instead take a big-picture view. Has your child improved since the initial goal was set? If yes, that is positive progress. And, if the experience has taught her to dream big, try new things and persevere through challenges, then you’ve reached your goal.


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