Help Your Child Set and Reach Their Goals

Mother and Girl Making Plans.
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It can be difficult to reach goals, but for some gifted kids, it can be nearly impossible. It's not that they are incapable of reaching goals; it's the way they go about setting their goals and working to attain them. One problem is that their goals are unrealistic. For example, a child might want to get a dog, but if he's allergic to dogs, that's not a realistic goal. Or the child expects to reach a goal overnight. Learning to play the piano is a great goal, but expecting to reach that goal in a week or two is unrealistic.

Another problem is that while some children may be good at setting a goal, they don't understand how to reach it. They seem to think that just wanting something will somehow make it happen. This can be especially true of gifted kids for whom everything comes easily. They can get discouraged, give up, and turn into underachievers.

Here's how to help your child set and reach goals.

Determine the Goal

The first step in achieving a goal is to identify one. Goals can be short-term or long-term, which means that a goal might be an immediate one or one that is in the future. In either case, all good goals have the same qualities in common:

Good Goals Are Specific

If your child wants to set a goal of becoming a good student, he will have a hard time reaching that goal because it is not specific. Getting all A's would be a more specific goal. Your child might want to learn to play the piano, but that is a long-term goal. It's also a little vague. Learning to play the piano for personal enjoyment is one thing. Learning to play it to be in a band or orchestra is something else and being a concert pianist is something else yet again.

How to Set Specific Goals

For young children, learning to play the piano might be a sufficient long-term goal. Learning to play the scales on the piano is a specific short-term goal.

Good Goals Have Deadlines

Unless a goal has a deadline, it will be too easy to ignore it. If a child has a goal of learning to play the piano but has no deadline, it may never happen. Long-term goals will have deadlines further in the future than short-term goals, which is why it's important to break long-term goals down into small-term goals. Learning to play the scales on the piano in two weeks is a good specific goal with a deadline.

Good Goals Are Sincere

Your child's goals should be hers, not yours. While you may want your child to get all A's, that may not be your child's goal. Unless the goal is one your child wants to reach, she won't be motivated to reach it. Trying to encourage your child to reach your goals defeats the purpose of helping your child create goals and work to reach them. You may not like your child's goals, but your job is to help him create and reach his own goals. If your child wants to be an archeologist and you just want to help him work toward being a doctor, the goals your child is being asked to reach won't be his and he may not work that hard to reach them. This can be especially important for intrinsically motivated kids.

Write the Goal Down

Writing down a goal will force your child to think about a specific goal and make it more "real." Think of it as a "mindset." It helps the mind prepare for it and think about it.

Also, ask your child to write down why she wants to reach that goal. If she is having a hard time writing down why the goal is important to her, it might not be something that she really wants. For example, if she writes that she wants to make mom happy, the goal might not be a sincere one. It doesn't mean that making mom happy can't be one of the reasons. For example, if a child sets a goal of getting an A in social studies, one of the reasons might be to make mom happy, but it shouldn't be the only reason.

List the Steps Needed to Reach the Goal

Whether the goal is a long-term goal or a short-term goal, you will want to help your child figure out how to reach it. For a long-term goal, it will mean making a list of the short-term goals that must be reached in order to get to the main goal.

With the long-term goal of learning to play the piano, your child can start with the short-term goal of learning to play the scales in two weeks. What will it take to reach that goal? For a young child, practicing the scales for a half an hour a day might be enough.

If your child has a long-term goal, though, it may not be in his best interest to plan how to achieve every single short-term goal. Instead, separate the long-term goal into middle goals. A child who wants to become an astronaut might feel overwhelmed with a multi-page list of short-term goals. Instead, help your child list goals like "get A's in science." That goal would be for the current school year.

A good way to approach creating a plan is to start with the goal and work backward. If the goal is long-term, help your child start by making the first ones (moving backward) more general. The more current the goal is, the more specific it should be.

Monitor Progress

When children fail to meet a goal deadline, they may feel as though they are failures. It's not unusual for gifted kids to imagine that they can reach a goal far earlier than is reasonable to expect it to be reached. But, the only way to fail to reach a realistic and specific goal is to give up on it.

Some people, not just children, think that they can get a job done in much less time than it will take.

Those who succeed in reaching their goals have learned to give themselves more time than they estimate it will take them. For example, if your child thinks he can learn to play the piano scales well in three days, encourage him to double it. If your child is one of those who think goals can be reached immediately, encourage him to triple the time he thinks it will take him to reach the goal.

Final Thoughts

To help your child learn about setting goals and reaching them, be sure that the goals are his. You may need to help him make the goal specific with a deadline, and you may need to help him come up with a plan to reach the goal. But your child should be the one to do most of the work and thinking. Setting a goal and making a plan to reach it could be his first goal!

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By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.