SMART: How to Teach Your Kids to Set Goals

“Without dreams and goals, there is no living, only merely existing, and that is not why we are here.”

— Mark Twain

One thing that improves the quality of our life and overall well-being is having a sense of direction and purpose. That means we know where we are going, what things we are seeking, and why we are seeking them. As a result, we feel assured and safe.

Missing direction causes the exact opposite. It creates feelings of confusion and uncertainty and increases indecisiveness. Besides being highly distressing, such bad feelings usually waste our mental energy, time, and the opportunities that might pop up in our way.

Goal-setting is not only necessary to motivate people to work hard. Sometimes, people work hard and still do not achieve anything worthwhile. That is because there is nothing specific they are dedicating their time and effort to. Some may even feel adrift in life because there is no roadmap.

Put differently, developing a sense of direction in life is indispensable. And this can be achieved simply by setting goals.

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Importance of setting goals

Goal-sitting is such an essential skill for kids, in particular, to learn. First, it enables them to pay more attention to themselves and identify their interests and what matters to them most. This goes hand in hand with boosting self-awareness, which leads to making good choices and better decisions in the future.

As these goals stem from their interests and the things that matter the most to them, kids consequently develop self-motivation. Once they start working toward specific goals, they will learn to focus on what serves those goals and utilise them. In addition, they learn to ignore distractions.

And as they stay consistent with working toward their goals, kids build momentum, which, in return, boosts their self-motivation.

Fulfilling goals gives kids a sense of achievement. It makes them appreciate the effort they put in and trust their abilities to keep achieving more goals. This will surely improve their school performance, make them feel confident among their peers, and make teachers recognise them. And nothing like a teacher’s recognition and praise can encourage kids, after their parents’, of course.

Concentration is such an essential skill for success. Yet, unfortunately, it is something almost everyone is struggling with nowadays. Thanks to the widespread use of cell phones and social media, our attention span has shrunk to 8.25 seconds in the last 15 years.

But goals can help with that as they teach kids to be and stay focused. Instead of being distracted or overwhelmed by the many things they can or have to do, they will be able to focus on one goal at a time and dedicate their time, effort, and attention to it.

How to set goals

As we have mentioned earlier, setting goals requires kids to be a little aware of their interests and what they like to do. Well, yes, adults usually have to do things they do not like that much just for the sake of their benefits. For example, broccoli does not taste any good but eating it provides the body with nutrients and keeps it healthy.

But for kids, it would be better to focus more on what they like to do and teach them goal-setting in these areas, though we can surely encourage them to eat broccoli. 

Alright. What if the kids do not have any idea what they like?

Well, if they do not, parents can help them by brainstorming. Asking the right questions will encourage kids to look inside and explore themselves.

Parents can indeed suggest things to their kids to work on based on their knowledge and monitoring of them. Yet, they, the parents, have to be very careful when doing so not to force their kids to do things they will not enjoy.

OK. Now that we know what areas kids want to improve, it is time to set actual goals.

When setting goals, experts recommend people use the SMART technique. Besides the acronym being very descriptive of the goals, it also gives us more information about them. SMART goals means they have to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

So what exactly does that mean?

Let’s see.

1. Specific

As we mentioned, goal-setting was mainly invented to help people know exactly what they want and have to do. In other words, for the goal to be smart, it has to be specific. 

To make a goal specific is to break it down into smaller goals. For instance, a big goal can be ‘taking care of my health‘. That is really sweet, but it does not imply what kids should do. However, breaking it down into smaller goals makes it easy for them to know what to do.

For instance, ‘taking care of my health’ can be broken down to

  1. Eating my healthy meals.
  2. Drinking plenty of water.
  3. Going to my hockey class.
  4. Cutting down on sweets.
  5. Brushing my teeth.

To make a goal specific, we need to ask kids as many wh-questions about it as possible. Again, using the proper brainstorming techniques, parents can help kids identify

  1. What exactly do they want to achieve.
  2. Why they want to accomplish this goal in particular.
  3. Who will help me achieve this goal.

2. Measurable

The purpose of setting goals is to work hard to achieve something. So we must find a way to ensure the goal has been achieved. Is it a yes or a no? For instance, racers know they win a race by crossing the finish line.

That is precisely what we need to do with our specific goals, to make them measurable. Drinking more water is good but sounds vague. But to make it specific and measurable, it can be like: drinking eight cups of water a day, half a cup at each hour.

Besides being easier to track, measurable goals are also better. For example, drinking more water can be achieved by only drinking two cups. But drinking eight cups is much better for our health.

Another example can be ‘being nice to people every day’. To make it specific, it can be ‘smiling at others’. To make it measurable, it should be ‘smile at least three people I see daily’.

3. Achievable

The third characteristic of a smart goal is achievability. As parents help kids set goals, they themselves have to check whether or not those goals can be achieved.

Does that mean some goals are unachievable? Well, yes. Unrealistic ones are.

Goals have to be realistic. They should match the kids’ abilities. Yes, they can be a little challenging but not so challenging that they fail to achieve them. For instance, picking up the toys after playing is an achievable goal. But putting the toys on the top shelf of the cupboard is not achievable for a five-year-old.

Another point to consider when deciding on an achievable goal is within how much time this goal needs to be achieved. A goal may take a day to complete or a lifetime. Goals with no deadlines will probably be procrastinated and ignored.

Asking how kids are going to achieve this goal can also help make a goal achievable or at least check whether or not it is achievable. Some goals might require access to particular material. The availability of this material is what makes them achievable and vice versa. 

Setting Goals for Kids
Setting Goals for Kids

4. Relevant

As we have mentioned, the purpose of setting goals is to make progress in a certain area of life. Neither kids nor adults will continue working for a goal if it is not suitable or relevant to them. This relevance usually stems from the kids’ interests and how much they get along with this goal.

So parents need to ensure the goal is relevant. To do that, they should ask their kids some ‘why’ questions

  1. Why are they choosing that goal?
  2. Why is it important to them?
  3. Is this the right time to achieve that goal?
  4. How will this goal help them when completed?
  5. What needs will this goal satisfy?

5. Time-bound

The last characteristic of a smart goal is the one about time. As we have mentioned, a goal must be achieved within a certain period of time. In this case, the goal is called time-bound.

Besides setting a deadline for the goal, this deadline must also be suitable. In other words, it should be neither too close nor too far away. The time assigned for that goal should just be perfect.

For instance, a parent cannot ask a child to drink eight cups of water in 30 minutes. But spreading them throughout the day is much better and makes the goal achievable and time-bound.

Conclusion 

And there you have it, the easiest and most effective strategy to set SMART goals.

At first, we discussed the importance of setting goals in giving the kids a sense of direction, identifying their interests, boosting their self-awareness, and developing self-motivation.

Then, we tackled the significant characteristics of a good goal. Collected in an acronym reading SMART, goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. When found in every goal, these traits will ensure effectiveness, relevance to whoever is working on the goal, and progress. 

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