If you don’t know where you want to end up, how do you know where you’re heading or what you’re working for?
Occasionally in life, someone will stumble into success—but more often than not, that success is the result of careful planning, hard work and, importantly, goal setting. And that stands true for people of all ages, at all stages.
The key to successful goal setting is balance: It can’t be too easy (or it isn’t truly helping us improve or attain) and it can’t be too big (or it becomes unattainable and unrealistic). You need the “mama bear” goal: the happy “just right” middle of the road where you’re working toward something that’s attainable, but not overly easy to conquer.
As parents, goal setting is, yet another, life skill that we need to teach our children. But, when goal setting is a hard concept for grown adults to master, how can we teach it to younger minds? Easy: The same we do anything else—with practice and the opportunity to experiment.
A social psychologist challenged just this with a group of children, using a race. Initially, they completed the race for fun; after that first go, she asked them each to set a goal for their next race. Being kids, they set amazingly intense goals, the likes of which would’ve challenged Usain Bolt. Needless to say, they did not meet those goals—after which point, the psychologist asked them to set another goal for their next race. Each of the participants did so, giving themselves a goal that was challenging, but much more realistic.
There are so many great concepts to teaching your kids goal setting from that experiment:
1 – Let them find their way. It’s so easy to want to protect our children from disappointment, but sometimes, letting them discover their way through testing themselves teaches a more valuable lesson than they’d learn if we stopped them and told them how to do it our way.
2 – Make sure they have multiple chances. Part of letting them find their way is ensuring they have the opportunity to experiment. In the psychologist story, the children have three races, two of which they set goals for; consider that a model for all things in life (where possible). Give them the opportunity to fail in a small scale—and then to adjust course and try again. Success builds confidence, but learning how to fail—and overcome that miss—is also a very important lesson in building resiliency, self-worth and confidence.
3 – Sometimes, you have to lead the horse to water. Not all children (especially the younger ones) will automatically pick things up on the first or even second try. Don’t let them set themselves up for failure. Ask questions to guide them in a more successful direction if they aren’t putting things together on their own. For example, if their goal is too big, you might ask something like, “Hmmm, that seems like a pretty huge leap. What if we work our way up to that?” In asking the question, you’re opening their mind to other ways while also acknowledging and supporting their original intent.
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