As the year comes to an end, this is a great time to begin to dream into the new year what greater possibilities lie ahead.
We all know that setting and achieving goals is a life skill encouraged for success and happiness. But it’s one that even adults REALLY struggle with. Studies say that only about 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions! Before we can improve on goal setting success rates, it may be valuable to look at why so many people don’t succeed setting goals.
How you go about setting targets will influence your child as they watch you respond to hitting or missing your target. Have you noticed how your child reacts when a target isn’t met. Observe to watch for signs like negative self-talk, giving up, feeling disgusted with self, anger, outrage - do you react this way when you miss your targets or when they do? These are clues that the targets that have been set are more about the need to be accepted and to prove worthiness when they are met rather than for personal enjoyment, growth and improvement.
Make it fun! What if setting targets is something you do and learn together. You may even learn more about your child and they you through this process.
4 steps to taking aim:
Step 1: Let Your Child Choose Their Future Target
Your child is far more likely to be intrinsically motivated, driven, and ultimately successful when they generate what they desire, not what they think will please you or what you suggest. Guide your child to know what he/she would like to accomplish or achieve in the future- next week, next month, next year- depending on the age of your child.
Ask questions like:
What’s something you wish you could experience, do or achieve?
What’s a challenge you would feel very proud to overcome?
What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
What is something you dream of doing?
Focus on one major aim to start with.
Make sure the aim is specific, measurable, and trackable.
For instance, avoid vague aims like, “I’ll pay more attention in class this year.” Or “I’ll work harder.” “I will try harder.”
Be aware of any targets that hold judgement like, “I’ll be a good girl/boy.” “I’ll be better.”
Some examples would be, “I would like to improve my math grade.” “I would like to go to music camp.”” I would like to play on a baseball team.” “I would like to learn to swim in the deep water at the pool.” These are targets that a child will know when they are met.
Moving on through the next steps will help if your child has chosen a goal that is out of reach for them. For example, “I want to play pro football.” As you allow them to go through the following process, they can adjust their target to be a better fit. “I want to play flag football this fall.” Allowing this awareness to come to them on their own, will give them experience in making choices in the future.
Having allowance for your child’s choices, dreams, and desires will go a long way in letting them come into their own awareness of who they choose to be.
Step 2: Discuss the Value of Your Child’s Target
Your child may more motivated to achieve the target when they know “WHY.” Why do you want to achieve this goal? Why does it matter? How will it make your life different? How will it make a difference for others? This can give you some information as whether they are choosing for them or to accepted by others.
If they don’t have a reason - it may be a sense that they just know they want to do something. That’s okay, have them connect to the energy of what this will create. Is there a lightness, an expansion that they sense? How do they describe what it will be like when they have hit this target? It doesn’t need to be concrete.
Many children are motivated to help others and have a sense that their targets will improve their life and the lives of others. They may not know how, and then again, they may, so asking them questions may surprise you.
Asking questions like, “What do you think is the greatest benefit that this target will give? How can that help others?” will allow your child to see how their target can contribute to helping others.
Step 3: Break the Big Goal into Smaller Steps
Teaching our children to break their target into smaller targets will help them to not get overwhelmed or feel discouraged. This can be helpful for targets that your child may not be able to achieve right away. Setting up short-term steps that will move in the direction of the main target, will keep your child motivated.
Your role in guiding your child is to continue to focus on the progress more than the outcome. Celebrating each step that is made through acknowledgment that allows your child to own their own movement.
To help your child visualize this step-by-step process, offer to fill out a “target ladder.” At the top of the ladder, write down the main target, then work your way through the steps it would take to achieve it.
Let’s say your child’s big goal is to learn to swim in the deep end of the pool. The first step on the ladder might be watching others swim. The second step might be wading in the shallow end of the pool, followed by using a flotation device to float in the deep end. There could be a culmination of steps as the child then learns to kick, breathe and use their arms to swim. Maybe even taking swim classes.
The target ladder allows your child to see that it may take some time to reach the top of the ladder and that along the way progress is celebrated as the top is getting closer.
Use creativity to bring fun and celebration. There are infinite ways that you and your child can do this: Make a video of each step, create a photo album, if your child enjoys drawing or writing they can create their memoir, make a poster that adds a picture of each completed step of the ladder, re-enact the step completion like a movie scene, have memory moments when you ask your child-“Do you remember the day you ….?”, connect to the interests of your child.
Make it fun: Write or draw the targets on paper.
Psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews found that by simply writing down your goals, you’re 42% more likely to achieve them. (Telling a friend—or perhaps a parent—increases this rate to 72%.)
Keep it clear and post them where your child can see them daily.
Talk about the targets, do simple check ins, visualizing the next step completed, connecting to what it will feel like when the next step is achieved. Invite your child to create the ladder and fill it in as the progress is made.
Step 4: Brainstorm Potential Obstacles
What will you do to prepare your child for setbacks or when challenges occur that affect your child’s motivation? If you don’t consider the possibilities for potential obstacles, an unforeseen challenge or difficulty could derail your child’s motivation.
Psychologist Gabriele Oettingen studied the success rates of people who had optimistic beliefs about their future goals vs. the success rates of people who had pessimistic beliefs. The results were surprising.
Neither group of people was particularly successful at achieving their goals.
From this research, the acronym WOOP was born:
Wish - Think about something you want to achieve.
Outcome - Visualize how it would look and feel to achieve this goal. Even write it down.
Obstacles - Picture the things that have held, do hold, or could hold you back from reaching this goal.
Plan - If these obstacles occur, how can you respond? If [insert obstacle] occurs, then I will [insert behavior or action].
Sharing with your child, your own experience with obstacles and how you did or didn’t handle them, opens the door to the possibility that your child will encounter challenges as they go up the ladder and that they will be prepared for them. Some of these may be bad habits or negative thoughts, including a desire to give up.
Ask, “If you feel like giving up, what will you do instead?” You may even ask your child, have you ever felt like giving up in the past? And what happened?
When your child experiences failure or set-backs, remind them of the progress made, and ask some questions. Why do you think it didn’t go so well this time? What could you try next time to keep getting better? What did you become aware of? What do you know now that you didn’t know before? (Emphasize that is progress!)
Acknowledge your child’s effort, determination, and persistence.
Demonstrate for your child through your own responses to set-backs by being in allowance of them and letting go of self-judgment. Let your child hear you say, “I can do this,” or, “I’m working hard to reach my target.” “I won’t let this stop me.”
Share with your child examples of famous people like Thomas Edison, who reportedly tested 10,000 different materials for his electric lightbulb before finding the one that worked. What if Edison had given up on the 9,999th attempt?
What I appreciate about setting targets is that they can be adjusted. Just as we may think we want to achieve something and begin to progress towards that target, we may find in the course of it, that we want to change direction. Be aware of that with your child and use questions to discover what has changed. We are allowed to change our minds rather than continuing down a path that was not meant for us.
Setting aim for targets with your child will allow your child to experience and own their achievements as well as the how to handle the challenges that come along. Doing this with your child with your child may even spark new interest for you in creating your own targets and marking your progress in ways you never have before. Ready, Set, Aim!
For more on Setting Goals with Children listen to Be You Parenting Radio show on Inspired Choices Network- Episode Nov. 12, 2018, Fun Goal Setting for Families