Goal setting for kids: steps, pitfalls & activities

Goal setting for kids: steps, pitfalls & activities

Setting and achieving goals is great for motivation. Having goals ensures that we stay focused and can work towards something positive. However, this can be challenging, as setting realistic goals and achieving them can be hard work. So here are our best steps to help your child set and achieve a goal.


Whether your child’s goal is to save money or pass an exam, following these steps can help – meaning they're more likely to succeed and reach their goal.

Related: How to be the best parent, Life skills for kids



10 goal-setting steps for kids:

  1. Set SMART goals

  2. Let your child choose their goal

  3. Talk about their chosen goal

  4. The power of writing down your goals

  5. Break the goal into smaller steps

  6. Discuss potential obstacles

  7. Help your child visualise the progress

  8. Work a little towards the goal every day

  9. Let your child make their own mistake

  10. Provide positive reinforcement

What is goal setting for kids?

Goal setting is the process of identifying what you want to achieve and then creating a plan to make it happen. It is a valuable skill for kids as it can help them learn how to set and achieve their own goals throughout life, which can lead to:

  • Increased motivation and self-confidence

  • Improved academic performance

  • Better decision-making skills

  • Increased resilience in the face of setbacks

  • A stronger sense of purpose and direction in life

Executive function skills and goal setting

Executive function skills are mental skills that help us plan, organise, and control our thoughts and behaviours. These skills are especially  important for goal-setting and planning because they help us to:

  • Identify our goals. Executive function skills help us to identify what we want to achieve and to break down large goals into smaller, more manageable steps.

  • Create a plan. Executive function skills help us create a plan for how we will achieve our goals. This includes setting deadlines, identifying resources, and anticipating obstacles.

  • Stay on track. Executive function skills help us to stay on track and to persevere in the face of challenges. This includes managing our time, resisting distractions, and coping with setbacks.

  • Evaluate our progress. Executive function skills help us to evaluate our progress and to make adjustments to our plans as needed. This includes tracking our progress, identifying areas where we need to improve, and celebrating our successes.

In addition to helping kids to set and achieve their goals, executive function skills also have a number of other benefits for kids, including, says one study, improved academic performance. The researchers found that good executive functions were found to be a good predictor of academic performance in kids aged 6 to 12 years. 


How to set effective goals for your kids

1. Teach them to set SMART goals

SMART goals are a goal-setting process that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This process is helpful for kids because it provides a clear way to define your goals, which can make them easier to achieve.

  • Specific: Goals should be specific. This means avoiding vague or general goals, such as "I want to do better at school." Instead, goals should be specific, such as "I want to study harder to get better grades in X and Y. "

  • Measurable: Goals should be measurable so that you can track your progress and see how close you are to achieving your goal. For example, if your child’s goal is to save more money, they can measure progress by tracking their savings each week.

  • Achievable: Goals should be achievable but challenging. If a goal is too easy, your child won't be motivated to achieve them. They may become discouraged and give up if a goal is too difficult.

  • Relevant: Goals should be relevant to your child’s interests and values. 

  • Time-bound: Goals should have a specific deadline to help your child stay on track and motivated.

2 . Let your child choose their goal

Always allow your child to pick a goal because kids are always more likely to work towards something if it’s a goal they feel passionate about. Choosing their goal will also help them develop a sense of ownership over their actions. Finally, by letting them choose their own goals, you are allowing them to learn how to set and achieve goals, which will help them develop a sense of purpose and something to strive for in life.


3. Talk about their chosen goal

Once your child has chosen a goal, talk to them about it. Ask them why they have chosen it. And how will they reach this goal? And why it’s important to them. This is a great way to find out more about their thinking and keep them excited and enthusiastic about what they are doing. It’s also a good way to assess the goal's suitability, find resources for your child and manage their expectations. If the goal is unrealistic, help tailor it so it becomes achievable.


4. The power of writing down your goals

An often-cited study by Dr Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the University of California, shows the true power of writing down your goals. She found you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals by writing them down. Matthew’s sample group included entrepreneurs, educators, healthcare professionals, artists, lawyers and bankers. She divided the participants into two groups: Those who wrote down their goals and those who didn’t. The results showed that participants who wrote down their goals reached their goals at a significantly higher rate than those who didn’t.


5. Break the goal into smaller steps

It can be really helpful for kids to break their goals into smaller, more manageable steps. This will make it seem less daunting and more achievable. For example, if your child's goal is to learn how to play the guitar, you could break it down into steps like learning how to hold the guitar, read music, and play simple chords. If your child wants to learn a sport, break it down into steps like learning the game's rules, learning the sport's basic skills, and practising regularly.


6. Discuss potential obstacles

We all know that plans can be derailed by obstacles, so it’s worth making sure your child knows what obstacles they might face while working towards their goal and also what to do if they come up against something they hadn’t thought of before. 


Start by helping them brainstorm solutions. There may be multiple solutions, so it is important to encourage them to think outside the box. Next, help them develop a plan. This plan should include specific steps that they need to take in order to overcome the obstacle. Let them know that you believe in them and that you are there to help them along the way and celebrate their successes, no matter how small. This will help them stay motivated and keep working towards their goals.




7. Help your child visualise their progress 

To help with motivation, getting your child to visualise their progress in reaching a goal is important. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Create a vision board. A vision board is a collage of images and words representing your child's goals. It can be a fun and creative way to help them visualise their goals and stay motivated.

  • Track their progress. Help your child track their progress towards their goal by keeping a journal, creating a chart, or using an app. This will help them see how far they have come and keep them motivated to keep going.

  • Set milestones. Break down your child's goal into smaller, more manageable milestones. This will make it seem less daunting and more achievable. 

  • Be supportive and encouraging. Let your child know that you believe in them and that you are there to help them along the way. Your support will be invaluable as they work towards their goals.

8. Work a little towards the goal every day

Getting your child to work a little bit every day towards their goal teaches them the power of consistency and the importance of maintaining momentum with goals. Kids can get bored and disillusioned fast, so doing something daily towards their goals gives them a sense of accomplishment and motivation to keep going, even when they don’t feel like it.


9. Let your child make their own mistakes and learn from them

It’s natural to want to step in and help when your child makes a mistake or faces obstacles to their goals. However, mistakes are a natural part of learning. By making mistakes, kids learn from their experiences and develop problem-solving skills. Facing obstacles also helps children develop resilience and develop a stronger sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy. 


Above all, it’s important to remember that mistakes and obstacles are not bad things. They are opportunities for learning and growth. 


For example, if your child’s goal is to improve in a subject but forget to revise for a test and get a low score, let your child know that it's okay to feel upset or disappointed. Then help them identify the problem. What went wrong? What could they have done differently? And what steps can they take in the future to ensure that it won’t happen to them again? 


The same goes for money, their goal is to save for a day out with their friends, but they spend all their savings on impulse buys and now can’t go out with their friends. Acknowledge their disappointment, and help them ensure it won’t happen again by teaching them budgeting and delaying gratification.


GoHenry’s in-app Money Missions can also help here, as it features videos and quizzes to help your children learn about saving or budgeting.


10. Provide positive reinforcement

Finally, once your child has achieved their goal, praise and congratulate them. When praised for good behaviour, kids are more likely to remember that behaviour and repeat it in the future. Specific praise also helps them to feel good about themselves and their abilities. This can boost their confidence and make them more likely to take on new challenges.

Positive reinforcement also motivates them to do better and can help them to develop a strong work ethic and become successful in school, work, and life.

Related: Positive reinforcement examples


Pitfalls to avoid when goal setting for kids

Don’t do hard things for them

It’s always tempting to take over when kids aren’t doing things properly (or when they ask you to) but doing the work for them won’t help them learn to reach their goals. 


Don’t constantly remind them about their goal

This can undermine their confidence in their own abilities. This can lead to them feeling like they are not capable of taking care of themselves or completing tasks on their own.


Don’t get frustrated if their timeline keeps changing

Be patient. It takes time for children to learn how to be responsible and independent. Be patient with them and offer them encouragement along the way.

Let kids do things their way

Again it may not be the best way or the most effective way, but allowing kids to make their own decisions and learn things for themselves is the key to successful future goal setting.

Fun goal setting activities

  • Make a vision board. A vision board is a collage of images and words that represent goals. It can be a great way to visualise goals and stay motivated. To make a vision board, print some pictures, and scissors, and glue. Cut out images and words that represent your goals, and then glue them onto a piece of poster board. Be creative and have fun with it!

  • Play 3 Stars and a Wish. 3 Stars and a Wish is a fun game that helps kids focus on their goals. To play, have each child write down three things they are grateful for, one thing they want to improve, and one wish they have. Then, have each child share their answers with the group. This game is a great way to help kids focus on the positive and to set goals for themselves.

  • Create a goal chart. A goal chart is a visual representation of goals. It can be a great way to track progress and stay motivated. To create a goal chart, gather some paper, markers, and stickers. Draw a chart with a row for each goal. Then, fill in the chart with stickers or markers to track progress. 

Help your kids set financial goals with GoHenry

GoHenry is a prepaid kids debit card and app designed for kids and teens aged 6-18. They can use the card online or in-store and set automatic savings goals. GoHenry comes with a companion app for parents, which you can use to transfer money, set spending limits and get real-time updates whenever your child makes a purchase. So while your child learns financial responsibility, you get peace of mind. 




Related articles:

Routines for kids

Soft skills for kids

Growth mindset for kids

Resilience for kids

Problem solving for kids

Written by GoHenry Published Jul 18, 2023 ● 10 min read