Helping Kids Set Goals

How to Raise Children's Aspirations

Talk about your ambitions. If you model high aspirations, you can increase your child’s desire to set his own lofty goals, suggests 2009 research by the Community Links organization. When you talk to your child about your goals, encourage him to share his in return, making it a conversation, not a lecture.

Ask your child to write or draw about his aspirations. Without your help, your child likely will not think critically about what he wants in life. Encourage him to think about the future by asking him to create an aspirations map. Give your child a piece of paper and ask him to write or draw what he wants to be when he grows up in the center. Around the edge of the paper, have him write steps he has to take to reach this goal.

Explore obstacles with your child. Many children lower their aspirations because of obstacles they perceive as standing in their ways. These obstacles can be so imposing that children simply abandon their dreams for fear of facing them. Assist your child in seeing that nothing is too major to overcome by asking him to list the obstacles that stand between him and his dream. After he has created a list, review it together, explaining what he could do to overcome each obstacle. For example, if he sees the cost of college as an obstacle that could prevent him from becoming a doctor, talk to him about the scholarships he can receive if he commits himself to academics.

Show your child strong examples. Hearing encouragement from parents might be insufficient to motivate some children to really work toward their goals. If your child doesn’t seem duly inspired by your encouragement, show him that other people -- more famous and cooler people -- want him to be successful as well. President Obama, for example, spoke on the importance of goal-setting in a 2009 address to America’s school children. Play back this address for your child to show him that you aren’t the only one who wants him to reach for the moon.

The Importance of Having Goals for Kids

Focus

Kids aren't exactly well-known for their ability to focus on one specific task. But putting goals in place can help your child focus on a project, task or end result. If you want your child to improve his math grades, for instance, creating a tangible goal -- doing an extra credit project -- can help him focus his efforts and work toward something specific. Of course, that means you must create specific goals to create that focus -- "Get a better grade" isn't as specific as "Do an extra credit project," which is easier for your child to grasp.

Motivation

Goals are usually synonymous with one thing -- rewards. Offering rewards for reaching set goals can help motivate your child to follow through with the actions necessary to achieve that goal. Whether it's a sticker chart for good behavior or a special night out with mom and dad after achieving a sports- or academic-related goal, even a small reward can be enough to motivate your child so you're not the one doing the coaxing and prodding to get a task or goal completed. While it may start out as extrinsic motivation for rewards, that motivation can become a personal and intrinsic value for your child.

Exploration

Setting goals with your child can give him the opportunity to explore a number of different interests. The University of Tennessee Cooperative Extension suggests setting a number of goals with your child, including academic, personal, sports and financial. Setting a number of different types of goals for your child can help him become a well-rounded individual who is willing to put forth the effort to achieve goals in all aspects of his life.

Accomplishment

Your child needs to see the fruits of his labor to feel accomplished. While it might be difficult, pushing forward to achieve a goal gives your child the ability to see the direct line between effort and accomplishment. As he realizes that he has the power to reach goals, he gets a sense of self confidence, notes the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Goals teach children to be responsible for their own behavior -- if your child doesn't do the work, he doesn't reap the rewards or the satisfaction of reaching a goal.

Helping a Teen Stick to a Goal

Planning Help

In many cases, your teen may be taking his first steps toward goal planning. He may have an idea of what to accomplish, but not know how to get there. With your experience, you can step in and help him forge the path. Show him how to break the goal into smaller steps that he must achieve and schedule the time to complete those tasks. If he wants to get into the college of his choice, he needs to set aside time to complete homework, study for the SAT and prepare thoughtful college applications.

Emotional Support

Your teen needs to know that you're on her side. This includes cheering on her successes as well as talking through her disappointments. Set her up for success and don't distract her from reaching her goals. If she's trying to eat healthier foods, for example, you shouldn't offer her candy or ice cream.

Practical Support

Many teens require a lot of practical support in order to meet their goals as well, and this support is likely going to cost you time and money. A child trying to make the football team will need you to purchase special equipment and drive him to practice, while a student trying to ace the SAT might appreciate a private tutor. It's always smart to ask him how you can be most helpful in reaching his goals.

Help Quitting

Sometimes, a teen simply takes on too much, making it difficult for her to meet any of her goals. While you don't want her to make quitting goals a habit, learning when to cut your losses so that you can truly excel at something else is an important life skill. If you see your teen floundering, help her identify which of her goals are most important and pare down the ones that aren't as essential. This will free up her schedule so that she can better focus.