Teaching Your Child to Set Goals

Goal-setting is a highly useful life skill that builds values such as motivation, persistence, determination, and confidence.

But setting goals—and especially sticking with them—isn’t an easy task, even for adults. So how can you help your child set and achieve goals?

Let Your Child Choose

First, it’s important to let your child choose his own goal. If the goal is something that you want your child to achieve, he’s less likely to have the motivation needed to see it through. And even if he does reach the goal, it won’t be nearly as meaningful.

Offer Guidance

Of course, once your child comes up with his idea, he may need a little help transforming it into a solid goal.

You can help your child create a SMART goal. A SMART goal must be:

  • Specific (Know what he wants to achieve, why he wants to achieve it, and how he will achieve it.)
  • Measurable (How will you know when the goal has been accomplished?)
  • Achievable (Make sure the goal is challenging, yet still realistic.)
  • Results-Focused (The goal should focus on a desired outcome.)
  • Time-Bound (Link the goal to a realistic timeframe to help motivate your child.)

Break the Goal into Manageable Steps

Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy explains that most people fail to reach their goals because they’re too “big” and “distant.”

She suggests breaking goals into incremental steps, providing the example of a couch potato who dreams of running marathons.

At first, 26.2 miles will seem like an insurmountable task, one that’s likely to result in failure and giving up. Instead, it would be beneficial to set mini goals to run two miles, then five miles, then eventually seven miles, and so on.

Your child can use the same process. If, for example, his goal is to make the Honor Roll, he may want to work toward earning an “A” in one class at a time.

This gives your child opportunities to celebrate success and build confidence along the way, which will increase his motivation and his chances of success.

Plan for Obstacles

Dr. Gabriele Oettingen and Dr. Peter Gollwitzer developed a goal-setting method called WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan).

The latter half of this acronym requires your child to brainstorm obstacles that may prevent him from reaching his goal, such as getting distracted by his phone while studying.

Next, your child must come up with an action-plan for overcoming this obstacle. For example, your child may decide, “If/when my phone distracts me from studying, I’ll give it to mom until I’m done.”

By using the WOOP method, your child will be prepared to deal with potential obstacles when they arise, which will make him more likely to stick with his goal despite these challenges.


Sticking with goals isn’t easy, but you can teach your child to achieve his dreams by letting him choose a meaningful goal, providing a bit of guidance, breaking the goal into manageable steps, and planning for potential obstacles.


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