Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. Her column appears in Indiana newspapers.
Adults often make New Year’s resolutions to exercise more, quit smoking, learn a new skill and manage money better. But should kids also make resolutions?
Studies show goal setting can build children’s resilience, confidence and motivation. Yet it’s important we understand how goal setting is different for children. With the right approach, building our children’s ability to set appropriate goals can put them on a path to long-term success.
As caring adults, we can set the conditions for our children to learn the benefits of setting goals.
Experts agree that most children learn to set goals by watching parents and mentors. Teaching kids how to set and achieve goals helps them learn self-reflection and self-improvement. This growth mindset has been found to be a better predictor of future success than IQ.
To be effective, children must drive the goal-setting process. To ensure that the goals are not a reflection of adult overreach, we must allow the child to identify their unique goals.
One approach, the “ABCs of Goal Setting” from Psychology Today, says goals should be achievable, believable and involve personal commitment. EdWeek proposes a simple “noun plus verb” structure, such as “read nightly” or “attend homework groups.”
With any approach, it’s important to review plans regularly, anticipate that setbacks may occur and that adjustments will be needed.
While goal setting can be started with children as young as 3 or 4, it’s important to adjust the approach as the child grows. At any age, start by simply asking children what they would like to do this year. Michelle Borba, parenting expert and author of the book “UnSelfie,” suggests using this formula: “I will” plus “what,” “when” and “how.”
For younger kids, simply use “I will” plus “what.” Goals such as tying shoes or memorizing simple addition are realistic for little ones and can later become more complex.
Psychology Today says it’s key to listen to the child and focus on the process of improvement rather than the product. We also can help by ensuring that kids don’t set too many goals or select goals that are too complex or too simplistic. Many experts suggest that by selecting goals that are just out of reach we can teach children to try new things.
Kids also must see and understand that self-improvement takes time and that setbacks are normal. Show them the struggles you’ve encountered to reach your own goals.
There are many great biographies, such as those of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and many Olympic athletes, that highlight the essential connection between goals, failure and success.
Goal setting holds the promise of helping kids in many parts of their lives, including beyond academics. When youth are overscheduled and stressed, they may need to identify goals to help them relax and have fun.
Borba recommends promoting this balance by helping children set and achieve character goals. Character goals aim at cultivating “we-thinkers” instead of “me-thinkers,” helping kids become better individuals and community members through building traits such as caring, respect, generosity and truthfulness.
Another way to reinforce character goals is for the entire family to identify and work toward a shared goal, such as listening more or reaching out to elderly relatives.
In 2018, instead of just telling your child they’re smart, you can teach them that they’re capable of taking on and growing from challenges. Listen to their goals, help them define the strategy to accomplish them and provide encouragement in the face of setbacks.
As we aim to nurture our future leaders, goal setting may be the key to building motivated, resilient and hopeful kids. And that’s a goal we can all share.