A Father's Guide to Helping Kids Set and Achieve Goals

Kids Setting and Achieving Goals
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Setting and achieving goals is an essential life skill for anyone who hopes to succeed in life.  Having specific targets for what we want to accomplish gives us as humans hope and direction in a life that can easily become simply moving from one day to the next. As fathers, one of our key missions in our parenting is to help teach our children life skills that will matter to them, and helping kids learn to set and achieve goals is one of those key roles of fathers.

Why Goal Setting for Children

Famous entrepreneur J.C. Penney taught about the importance of goals. “Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.”

Many fathers might think teaching their children about goals is simply trying to give them adult skills at too young an age.  “There is plenty of time for goal setting later,” they think.  “Let’s just let kids be kids.”

This may have been true at one point in time, but kids today seem to want to achieve, to compete effectively with their peers, and to strive to accomplish big things.  Helping them learn about goal setting and the basic skills of achievement like communication, managing money, and getting along with their siblings and peers is of critical importance, even at a young age.

How Young Should We Start with Goals?

Consider the fact that most parents are helping kids with goals in the most basic sense at a very early age.  For example, we will put a toy just out of reach of a baby laying on a blanket to motivate them to roll over.  We get them to hold our fingers as they take early steps, letting go to help them do it on their own, and then praise every effort toward walking, even when they fall.  Rolling over, crawling, walking, talking and having other life skills all involve the basics of goal setting.

As to more advanced goals like saving money for a purpose, developing sports-related skills like shooting a basketball or passing a soccer ball effectively, kids can start during their preschool years with these kinds of goals.  As the kids get into school, goals like grades, making sports teams, or getting high video-game scores can come more into play.  Figuring out how to set and achieve goals at these levels will prepare them for the bigger ones like getting a summer job, saving for college and being able to play a difficult piece at their piano recital.

Goal Setting Formula for Kids

When teaching our kids how to set and achieve goals, we need to get them involved in understanding and practicing a simple formula. The following steps have served many fathers well in working with their kids on setting their goals.

Select an area for improvement.  We can start our kids with identifying some of their key roles in life. Starting with roles is the best way to look at the various aspects of their lives where they might feel a need to improve.  A ten-year-old child’s roles might include child, sibling, friend, student, team member, musician, dancer, or runner. These roles might be a bit different for a teenager - teens might add things like driver, babysitter, athlete, or girlfriend/boyfriend. Helping your kids make a list of their roles is an important place to start with goal setting.

Pick an achievable goal.   If a preteen comes up with a goal of playing football in the NFL, a father should help them find a more realistic goal like running for a specific number of yards in a season or having a number of open tackles in every game. Getting into Harvard Medical School might be a great dream for a teenager, but focusing on getting good grades in science classes and volunteering for a certain number of hours at a community health care clinic might be better.  Help them see how their goals connect to their dreams.

Develop a plan to achieve.  Once your child has developed a realistic goal in one of her goal areas, then you can help them set up a plan.  Make a list of the steps to achieve the goal.  For example, if the goal is to volunteer at a community medical clinic, the steps might include:

  • making a list of the clinics nearby,
  • getting the names and contact information for the clinic administrators
  • checking the clinic websites or other sources for volunteer opportunities
  • making contact with the clinic administrators
  • filling out applications, and
  • then being a consistent and reliable volunteer when selected.

Set up metrics.  Kids understand metrics - after all, test scores and grades are metrics.  So help them identify some measurements that they can use to see how well they are achieving their goals.  For the football player, counting the number of tackles in each game would be a good metric.  For a child saving money for a big purchase, they can make a chart that shows their savings progress.  Having regular measures can help the child stay on track with their goals.

Make course corrections.  A child may set up a goal that seemed achievable at the time, but circumstances may change.  Maybe the football player got moved from defense to offense and the goal of open field tackles is no longer realistic.  The goal may need to morph a bit to adjust to changing circumstances.  Help them see the need to make adjustments when circumstances change.

Involve the whole family and support system.  Let each of the children share their goals and plans in a family night or other appropriate setting.  Email grandparents and others about their goals.  The more public the goal is, the more motivated a child can be.  And they can get encouragement from a broader range of people as they move toward their goals.  

Celebrate wins.  When a goal is achieved, make a big deal about it.  Go spend some quality time with your child - like go out to dinner or to the latest Star Wars epic. Celebrating a child’s accomplishments can help them feel that they have done something worthwhile. One family worked with their kids each summer to set goals for the number of pages they would read while school was out.  At the end of the summer, each kid that achieved his or her goal got a trophy to memorialize the achievement.  

Whatever our approach, teaching our children the essential life skill of setting and achieving goals is one of a parent’s most critical roles.  These ideas can help any dad launch his children into achievement and helping them accomplish what they want most in their lives.

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