Setting and achieving goals is great for motivation. Goals make sure that we stay focused and can work towards something positive. However, this isn't always as easy as it sounds. Even for adults, setting realistic goals and achieving them can be hard work. We’re here with some tips on the six steps that can 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.
How goal setting develops your kid’s executive function skills
Practicing goal setting skills can also help your kid’s executive functioning. A guide from Harvard explains how mental processes like executive function skills and self-regulation are essential for kids’ development and learning. These abilities help kids manage their time, shut out distractions, and control their own behavior. Goal setting is a great way to practice making plans and using executive function skills to see them through. As kids develop these abilities, they will learn how to make wiser choices for themselves and stick to their goals.
1. Let your child choose their goal
The first step is to let your child pick a goal, because kids are more likely to work towards it if they select it themselves. It might not always be the goal you want them to choose, so you might want to guide them. Generally, the more autonomy we are given over our goals, the more work we are willing to put in to reach them.
2. Discuss why they want to set their goal
Once your child has picked a goal, you could ask them why they’ve chosen it. This is a great way to help them to focus on the benefits of their target and keep them excited and enthusiastic. This can also be a good way of assessing the goal's suitability and managing expectations. They may have picked a goal that won’t achieve what they hope, or they might have picked an unrealistic goal.
If this happens, you can help them talk through the problem. You could help them pick a better goal, or make their original goal more realistic. Remind your child that they haven’t failed—when adults don’t manage to achieve a goal, they always learn something new, which may be more important than the goal itself. It's quite normal to set a goal that won't deliver exactly what you want. Once your child has an achievable goal set, you’re ready to move on to step three.
3. Help your child visualize the progress in reaching their goal
Having a goal is great, but if you have no idea how to reach it, the chance of success can be slim. This means that abstract ideas about reaching a goal might not work—you and your child may need to see or track the progress being made.
Ask your child how they think they will go about reaching their goal. Where is the best place to begin? What should they do first? Will it take a long time? It’s also good to talk about if there are any milestones involved in meeting their goal. Milestones are a great way to mark progress and to maintain your child's enthusiasm for their next achievement. For example, if your child’s goal is to buy a certain toy, the first step is to look at saving money.
4. Break the goal into smaller steps
Just like when adults set goals, it can be really helpful for kids to break their goals into smaller steps. You could talk this through with your child to help them break down goals for themselves, but they might need some guidance if they don’t understand how to do this—which is a great learning opportunity.
There are two main ways to break down goals—milestones and steps. As mentioned above, milestones can be a great way to keep track of progress, and it’s always easier to stay focused on a goal if you can see that you’re making progress. If your child’s goal is to save up for a new toy, you could set a milestone at the halfway point, so they can see how well they’re doing.
Breaking a goal down into steps is more about how your child will achieve it. For example, if the goal is to learn how to make a birthday card for someone, you can split this into several segments—finding the paper and art materials, folding the card, drawing the picture on the front, writing the message, and putting it in an envelope. Dividing a goal into steps like these means that no aspect gets missed. It also means that your child can follow the steps in a logical order. If you let your child talk through the steps with you, it can help them become better at planning.
5. Discuss potential obstacles
This is a big one—we all know that plans can be derailed by obstacles. It’s always worth making sure your child knows what obstacles they might face while working towards their goal, and you can help them start to plan what to do if these obstacles come up.
It can be disheartening when something goes wrong unexpectedly, so being aware of obstacles at the start can help teach your child resilience in the face of setbacks. It can also help them learn to have a plan for reaching a goal no matter what—and you can help them get through any unforeseen obstacles. Remember, it’s possible to fail due to unforeseen obstacles, even when you do nothing wrong, so a contingency plan can be reassuring.
6. Let your child make their own mistakes and learn from them
This is also important—we all make mistakes at times, and they can have a significant effect on our progress towards goals. Depending on how old your child is, they may also not fully realize the effects that their mistakes might have, and learning through experience is valuable.
Allowing your child to make mistakes in a safe way is vital. It can help them experience the consequences of their actions. Of course, it's to be expected that your child may become disheartened and might even want to abandon their goal, but a lot of kids may just need a bit of encouragement to get back on track. You can also point them towards where they can learn how to succeed next time. With financial goals, for example, GoHenry’s in-app Money Missions features videos and quizzes to help your children learn about saving or budgeting.
Reflect on the progress/results with your kid to make improvements
These six steps can help you teach the importance of goal setting for kids and how to stick to a plan, but not all goals go exactly the way kids want them to. After your kid completes a goal or as your child hits milestones toward their goal, it’s important to take time to reflect on the results. Talk to them about their progress, what went well, and what they can improve in the future. Being able to reflect on past successes and fail
ures will help kids learn how to set better goals in the future.
What to do if your kid wants to give up on their goal?
Goal setting for kids isn’t always an easy process. Many children get distracted by something new or get discouraged by how long it takes to reach their goal. Children can be easily deterred, and teaching the importance of focus and patience is challenging for many parents. If your child is ready to give up on their goal, talk to them about the purpose of their goal and why they committed to it in the first place. Remind them of their plan and encourage them to see it through. Staying positive is key, so focus on how kids can improve next time and what they can learn from putting in the effort to reach their goals.
You may wonder why there's a seventh step when this is a six-step guide. It's simple—step seven is to celebrate! Once your child has achieved their goal, it’s a great idea to congratulate them—this helps reinforce how great it is to reach a goal. Positive reinforcement like this is essential for making great habits later in life.
Setting goals can be demanding, so you'll probably want to make sure your child associates achieving a goal with positive feelings. Of course, once they’ve succeeded, you can help them set a more challenging goal.
Help your kids set financial goals with GoHenry
If you're teaching your kids about money, you might want to help them set a savings goal through the GoHenry app, then assist them in setting more difficult savings goals that help them expand their knowledge and learn even more. Our in-app Money Missions are great to help your kids learn about money with engaging lessons tailored to their age. Sign up today to see how GoHenry can help your children with their financial goals.