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October 11, 2018

Helping Children Set Goals

By Pam Hillestad, Director of School and Youth Programs at the Glazer Children’s Museum

I love the promise of a fresh beginning. At the start of each new school year, I anticipate that odd mixture of excitement and anxiety which starts in August with butterflies in my stomach and grows to a warmth in my heart by fall. As a child, the excitement of the new school year meant back-to-school shopping with my mom. While I was a little nervous for each new year, I was mostly excited for new friends, new activities and more books to read. When I became a teacher, the new year excitement became less about new outfits, empty notebooks and shiny lunchboxes and more about fresh starts and the promise of growth. I loved organizing my classroom and planning how I would structure the year. Even now, so many years later, I still view the new school year as a blank page waiting to be filled.

As a teacher, I harnessed my new-year enthusiasm to help my students set their own goals and intentions. Goal setting is extremely important, teaching focus and determination while providing something to strive for and celebrate. Goals push us to step outside our comfort zones and accomplish new things. By setting goals, I have climbed mountains, traveled the world, published my writing and swum rivers, lakes and seas.

At home or in the classroom, try setting family or class goals and posting them somewhere visible like the fridge or whiteboard. Celebrate at the end of the month, no matter the results, because you’ve done the hard job of working toward a goal and your children have learned to see themselves as goal setters. In my house, whenever a new movie was released based on a book, my family set a goal to read the book beforehand, then we would go to the movie together.  It’s important to make goal setting and celebration a part of your regular routine.

Here are some of my favorite tips for teaching goal setting to children:

  1. Set goals that are challenging, exciting, and fun.
  2. Divide time into small and achievable increments, setting daily, weekly or monthly goals.
  3. Goals should be easy to understand and measurable, so that you know success when you see it.
  4. Share your own goals and help them follow your journey to meet your goals.
  5. Focus on the positive. Set goals that help you improve rather than focusing on things you want to stop doing.
  6. Write goals down and post them in a visible area.
  7. Help break big goals into small steps.
  8. Celebrate often. Share successes and failures regularly and celebrate progress.

Children are never too young to start setting goals and can easily understand the concept. As parents and teachers, it’s our job to guide them as they work towards their goals. We can help them learn from their successes and failures, building confidence and encouraging resilience.