Five Lessons From Our Goal Setting Experiment

This week I embarked on a goal setting experiment with my kids. On Wednesday evening after dinner we set aside some time for each of them to work with me separately to test out the various goal setting sheets I found earlier in the week.

I made sure to give them a heads up that we would be doing this special activity together so they were prepared. I was pleasantly surprised how much my seven year old son already knew about goals and New Years resolutions. He was so excited, spouting off ideas for his goals when I told him about our plan on Tuesday night.

Our Goal Setting Process

Before we sat down, I printed out the various goal setting sheets. I numbered each of them and showed them to my children, explaining how each one worked. I wanted to see if certain formats were more appealing to them visually.

My son’s favorite was New Years Resolution Printable from Uncommon Designs. He enjoyed answering the following questions:

  • This year I really want to: Complete seven Madden mobile Super Bowls on my video game.
  • I really need to: Get a Panther ticket reward at school for setting a good example.
  • I want to be better at: Catching football passes.
  • I want to learn how to: Make better paper airplanes.

We then took the goal about catching football passes and developed it in more detail using Worksheet 2 from About.com. This was my favorite tool because it asks for 1) the goal, 2) a target date to achieve the goal, 3) three things to do to reach the goal, 4) how to know you have reached your goal, and 5) two things that will help you stick to your goal.

For my three year old daughter, the best sheet was When I Grow Up Activity Sheet from icankids.com. It asks what would you like to be when you grow up, which is a simple concept for young children to grasp. She said she wants to be a veterinarian. With a tiny bit of guidance from me (I tried really hard to let her come up with the ideas on her own), she decided she needs to do the following to accomplish her goal:

  • Get and stay healthy
  • Practice helping animals
  • Get a pet and take care of it
  • Read books about being a veterinarian
  • Practice by pretending with her toy doctor kit and stuffed animals

The second page of this tool asks the child to draw a picture of what they look like all grown up. This was a perfect activity for her at this age. Here is her drawing as a veterinarian helping a small cat.

Lessons Learned

Overall, it was a very successful experiment and I have some key lessons to share with you to consider in your own goal setting activities with your children:

  • Offer Choices. My children enjoyed picking which goal setting tool to use. It let them have control over the situation. It is important that we don’t dictate the process to them. It also showed them that there is not just one way to successfully set goals.
  • Get Creative. Goal setting works for children if you let them use their imagination. As parents, we need to be careful not to guide them too much. During this activity, I really enjoyed listening to my children’s unique ideas about what they wanted to achieve. We can also instill creativity in goal setting by incorporating art and technology. I especially loved that my daughter could express her goal through drawing. Later this month we will explore other creative ways to set goals, such as vision boards, blogs, board games, drama, and videos.
  • Make It Age Appropriate. According to Dr. Gail Gross, a human behavior, parenting, and education expert, children under age seven do not grasp abstract concepts in goal setting. We need to be mindful of what our children are capable of understanding when we approach goal setting with them. This is why I loved when my daughter drew what she hoped for in the future. It simplified the concept for her, unlike my son who was able to figure out how to develop his football goal at a higher level with more detail.
  • Build Confidence and Self-Esteem. Numerous resources tell us that goals help children build confidence and increase their self-esteem. Having something to work for keeps them motivated and excited about life. When my son came home from school on Thursday, he was thrilled that he caught a pass during the recess football game. He set his goal to catch at least half of the passes thrown to him by the end of his flag football season, and he is now well on his way to achieving this goal. It was clear that he felt more confident about his football skills, and we have the goal setting exercise to thank!
  • Keep It Fun and Stress-Free. For adults, goal setting can sometimes feel stressful because it means we have so much we strive to accomplish. Let’s not pass this feeling on to our children. Keep the activity light and stress-free so that they can enjoy setting goals for a lifetime. Using creative approaches and doing it as a family activity or game can alleviate any pressure. And remember to let them make their own choices. If we start telling them what goals to set and how to achieve them, they will be turned off and disengage.

What goal setting tips have you learned?


Originally published at happysciencemom.com on January 8, 2016.

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