Helping your child set their own goals is an important step in creating lifelong habits. From kindergarten to high school and college students, the goal-setting process is invaluable.
Children who set goals learn to take ownership of their achievements and contentment. While the SMART goals methodology is widespread, younger children may benefit from a more straightforward approach.
The 4-Part WISH Method to Help Your Child Set Goals
W – Why is the goal important to me?
I – Is it positive?
S – Simple and achievable
H – Have an action plan
Children often hear tales of wishes and vast dreams, but these stories seldom provide a blueprint for realizing those aspirations. Giving kids tangible goals allows them to act towards making dreams a reality. It empowers them, fostering critical thinking and proactiveness.
#1 W- Why Is It Important To Me?
The cornerstone of goal-setting is understanding its personal significance.
Goals tied to personal relevance are more likely to inspire action and commitment. This ownership fosters motivation and provides profound satisfaction upon accomplishment.
Emphasizing intrinsic motivation, where children pursue outcomes for their personal fulfillment rather than external rewards, sets the foundation for future success.
Parents inevitably influence their children’s desires. However, goal-setting should be child-led, with parents guiding and not dominating the process. Helping children prioritize their multiple ambitions cultivates the skill of task prioritization, preventing feelings of being overwhelmed.
#2 I – Is It Framed Positively?
Goals framed positively are inherently more effective. Instead of saying, “I don’t want to be late for school,” a more constructive framing is “I want to be ready for school on time.”
This positive restructuring offers clarity and actionable steps. For example, your child can pack their bag the night before and lay their clothes out. This will help them be ready for school on time. It’s easier for kids to focus on what they will do rather than what they will stop doing.
#3 S – Simple and Achievable
Successful goal-setting with your kids means their goals should be simple and achievable. For younger children, short-term goals can help them stay motivated. So it’s important to find a balance between challenging goals that are still achievable.
Keep goals age appropriate and help explain to your child why the goal is reasonable or not. For example, your eight-year-old might want to become a chef, which is unrealistic at this stage.
But you could encourage them to set a different goal, such as learning how to cook a meal or bake a cake. Explain how taking steps towards a smaller goal can help them reach their big dream. Learning to cook at home can help them become a chef later.
A goal that is too easy or ambitious is not great for motivation and will affect how competent a child feels.
Ask leading questions to help your child figure out if their goal is too easy or too challenging.
- Is this a goal I could reach safely?
- Is this a goal that needs more resources (time, money, etc.) than I have?
- Is this something I could do easily?
- How would working toward this goal make me feel?
- Can I make this goal more challenging?
- Can I make this goal more realistic?
Letting them explore the answers will encourage them to think critically. It will help them set goals that empower them rather than undermine their confidence.
#4 H – Have an Action Plan
Once your child has identified their goals and knows they are achievable, they need to create a plan that breaks the goal down into manageable steps.
When kids break their goal down into daily actions, it helps:
- Reduce stress
- Improve motivation
- Holds them accountable
Working backwards can be an effective strategy for taking action.
Here are some questions your child can consider:
- What will it look like when I achieve my goal? What will it feel like?
- What 3-5 things could I do each month to reach my goal?
- What 2-3 things can I do each week to achieve my monthly milestones?
- Is there something I can do every day to reach my weekly milestones?
When prioritizing their goals, ask your kids to schedule steps they can take to achieve them. This will help them focus their time, energy, and resources.
Goals Aren’t Set in Stone
As time passes, you can help your child revisit the steps they have taken to achieve their goal. It’s possible that their priorities have changed.
Life is constantly changing. What was important to your child two months ago may not be as important now, and that’s alright. It’s your job to figure out if your child has other goals in mind or if they have given up because it was hard.
Perseverance and determination are challenging concepts for young kids. You may need to break the steps down further so your child can build confidence.
The Neuroscience Behind Goal Setting
Setting goals and working to achieve them increase dopamine levels in the brain. This improves mood and well-being.
The process of setting goals can also help the brain form new neural connections. This is particularly true for children. Their brains have more plasticity and form neural pathways every day.
Teaching them essential goal-setting strategies at an early age can help them develop healthy habits. Following steps to achieve a goal helps improve self-discipline. It also increases their ability to regulate emotions and behavior. Emotional regulation is one of the most critical skills we can help our children develop.
A centralized location to trace their goals using a worksheet can be of great benefit as it helps improve:
- Focus and determination
- Self-esteem and confidence
- Planning skills and decision-making
- A sense of achievement and accountability
Goal Setting and a Growth Mindset
Self-motivation is key for goal-setting for kids. Taking responsibility for what they want and how they want to get it encourages a growth mindset.
Psychologist Carol Dweck explains in her book that a growth mindset is when you believe you can develop your abilities through hard work and dedication. She also says that with effort, you can reach your goals. Kids who have a growth mindset have the desire to learn, embrace challenges, and believe that how smart they are is a skill they can develop.
Goal setting for kids is a fantastic way to encourage a growth mindset. When working towards a goal, you focus on your progress and learning rather than the result. When combined, a growth mindset and goal setting can help your child develop greater resiliency.
Help Your Kids Set Goals by Making a WISH
Setting goals isn’t just for adults and can be an important learning opportunity for our kids. It can help them through the school year, be a fun way to learn more about problem-solving, and teaches children perseverance.
The next time your child says, “I wish I could…” help turn that dream into reality by setting simple goals with actionable steps to achieve them.