Teaching Kids How To Make New Year’s Goals a Reality

With the beginning of each year, conversation naturally turns to goals and dreams to be accomplished in the upcoming year – the tradition of making “New Years Resolutions.” Often they are bold, sweeping goals – exercising more, eating healthier, being more creative – that are said with the best of intentions and soon forgotten. I know I am guilty of this, does it sound familiar to anyone else?

The problem is when we make a statement to ourselves and others before abandoning it, we are breaking a promise to ourselves and setting a bad example for our kids. My parents always told me “Don’t promise it if you have no intention of following through, it makes your word worthless.”

Even if you do have the best of intentions, you will still have problems if you were never shown how to focus your energy on a goal and break it down into simple, doable steps. This is a simple process that they don’t teach you in school. I see this all the time with my students, they dream big but quickly follow up with the word “impossible” because they think their dream is simply too big. They do not realize that almost any goal is attainable if you simply focus your energy on the next step.

Teaching children early how to break down dreams and goals into small, achievable, and measurable steps is a skill that they will use throughout their entire lives. Here is how to plan your goals:

Determine if you have a dream or a goal – The only difference between a dream and a goal is a plan. Dreaming is a good thing; it opens yourself up to new ideas and possibilities, but not all dreams should be turned into goals. Getting children into the habit of asking if their idea is a dream or a goal – and distinguishing the difference – is important. Dreams are a great way to stretch the imagination and explore different possibilities. One person’s goal might just be another’s dreams. What one person considers a dream might be the goal and focus of someone else’s life. A dream can be abstract, but a goal is concrete and measurable. A successful goal has a time line and a plan for achievement.

Choosing your goal – Learning how to choose your goals is vital to your success. When choosing a goal, you must see how it fits into your life to give it context. If we can’t see how or why we should set this goal, it makes follow-through almost impossible. This is one reason it is so hard for teenagers. What is their motivation to do well on a test? Get a good grade? Use this good grade to maybe get into a good collage four years down the road? This is so far away it doesn’t seem real, it doesn’t feel like an immediate concern. More likely, their motivation is “do well enough to appease the parents,” a poor motivator that encourages “doing just well enough to get by.” Getting into the habit of setting short, medium, and long term goals allows you to not only see the bigger picture but how actions taken each day contribute to success. Goal setting is a great way of teaching the abstract concepts of “cause and effect” to children as well. It can be as simple as creating a goal to read 10 new books in two months, or save up a specific amount for a new toy.

State your goal – Defining and stating your goal brings it out of the world of dreams and into reality. Goals should be specific and include something measurable. This could include a date of completion or another way of knowing when or how you have reached your goal. Doing better in school is a dream. Raising my in-class participation score from a “satisfactory” to a “good” by the next report card is a goal. Getting children to think in terms of goals is a great skill. This can be as simple as asking them what outcome or end result would they like to see. Do they want to make a craft for Father’s day? Achieve a specific grade in a class?  Clean their room? These can all be turned into goals that can be stated and measured. This is also a great habit to get into when communicating your wishes to kids. It gives them direction and gets them used to thinking in terms of goals and outcomes.

Identify “Action Steps” that must be taken to complete your goal – There could be hundreds of steps in a big or long term goal, something that often overwhelms people. By not having a clear idea of what must come next, the goal quickly becomes a dream again. To prevent this, the goal must be broken down into small, “bite-size” tasks. Begin by brainstorming everything you must do in order to complete your goal. Write down every step; some steps might still have to be broken down further, some might have to be done in a specific order. Then create a list of action steps. Keeping a list in front of you allows you to easily keep track of progress, decide what to do next, and track when tasks must be done in order to move towards your goal.

The idea is to make each step easy and manageable, something that can be accomplished in a short amount of time. Success breeds success and with each step completed, there will be motivation to go further. Breaking projects down into their most basic elements is a useful skill that kids will use their entire lives.

Visualize Success – Teaching kids how to visualize success is a great way to keep them motivated. Have them close their eyes and pretend they have just reached their goal. How does it feel? What emotions are they feeling? What does the scene look like? Teach kids to keep this firmly in mind, especially when they are feeling overwhelmed or unmotivated.

Tracking and Celebrating Success – You should not just celebrate when you reach your final goal, you should be celebrating every step of the way. This keeps you motivated and allows the journey to be honored as much as the destination. It is also more fun, which is important for kids. You don’t want them to dread setting goal because it is boring, or too much work. This is the time to teach them that with hard work comes great reward and it doesn’t have to be boring.

Each child will be motivated differently, but most of the time they need concrete and visual ways of marking success. Some children will get great enjoyment from being able to cross an item of their list. Others need a visual representation of getting closer to their goal. This might be a collage that can be added to or a progress thermometer to fill in. You could create a mountain out of poster paper and hang it on your kid’s bedroom wall with a little paper doll that he or she can move up the mountain each time they complete a step towards their goal. You can assign points to tasks and whenever your child has gotten a certain number of points they can choose a way to celebrate, such as a special family dinner, taking a break and having a special day trip, or perhaps another reward that is goal related – if it is your child’s goal to read 2 books each week for a month, after the first week you could surprise your child with a new book.

Tracking and celebrating success and building mini-rewards into your goal setting important for adults too. I am a list person: I love being able to have a goal at the top of a page, list the steps I need to take and to cross them off. My friend has a computer program that allows you to assign points to tasks and gives you a tally at the end of the day.

Helping your child find a system of goal setting that works well for them is important for success, and as our society moves away from “structured” jobs into the world of freelancing, entrepreneurship and working from home, having the skills necessary to identify goals, plan them out, and follow through are essential.

There are several posts on “Growing Creative Kids” which deal with different areas of goal planning. Divergent and Convergent Thinking Techniques for Creative Kids shows the different thinking techniques you use for goal planning and brainstorming. Creative Family Saving walks you through the goal setting process of saving money as a family including tracking progress and celebrating success. The Creative Kids 30 Day Challenge deals with setting goals to develop life long habits.

My goal for the New Year is to build “Growing Creative Kids” into a profitable website so I can write full time! What are your goals for the upcoming year? Please share with me!

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