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By Beverly Stewart, M.Ed.

Freshly sharpened pencils, crisp white notebook pages, and a hard-to-remember locker combination — a new school year has begun! Now that your child has settled into a new school routine, this is the perfect time to teach him about goal-setting.

Why is goal-setting so important? Think back to your own significant accomplishments. Rarely were they achieved through a series of serendipitous events. Instead, they were the result of careful planning, step by step progress, and ultimately – success!

Teaching kids exactly how hard work and achievement are related should start when children are quite young. Learning to accept responsibility for both success and failure is a crucial life skill — and goal-setting puts the power of achievement directly into a child’s hands!

For example, your child hopes to be accepted into a competitive middle school drama program, but doesn’t study lines for the audition. Without a clear goal and an understanding of what steps are necessary to actually realize that goal, many children will simply blame whoever is closest…“The director doesn’t like me” or “Only the older kids got accepted.” Conversely, if your child had studied his lines and performed to the best of his ability at the audition, failing to make the program would sting a little less.

As parents, we all want our children to be successful and happy. And, helping your child realize his dreams – at academics, sports, music, or art – requires three steps.

Step 1: Define the goal.

This is perhaps the most important step of all and will require some real thought and soul searching by your child. Is he working towards a “Straight-A’s” report card? Acceptance to a prestigious university? Membership on a competitive athletic team?

Remember to help him set the bar high enough so that the goal is a stretch, but not so impossibly high that disappointment is all but assured. For example, if your daughter is averaging a “D” in Spanish, membership in the Spanish National Honor Society probably not achievable this year. However, raising that average to a “B” this year and to an “A” next year, are possible with hard work.

Conversely, if your son has been the captain of his soccer team for the three years of middle school, simply making the high school JV team as a 9th grader is hardly a challenging goal. Acceptance to a prestigious travel team, however, is a prize worth striving for.

Step 2: Make a list.

As a natural list-maker, this is my favorite step. But, it may not be easy for all children. Breaking down a goal into a step by step process for achievement can be challenging.

For example, in order to receive a Gold Key Award for Art, a 4-month “to do” list might include:

  • Download application, requirements and deadline (by the 10th)
  • Brainstorm with art teacher on theme ideas (on the 15th)
  • Rough sketches (by the 30th)
  • Refine selected sketch (by the 10th)
  • Refine piece (by month’s end)
  • Review by art teacher (on the 2nd)
  • Final adjustments (by the 20th)
  • Get shipping materials (by the 22nd)
  • Send in work for judging (deadline is the 30th, send by the 22nd)

As this list illustrates, it’s important to not only include a list of tasks, but also a reasonable timeframe. Many students grossly underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete a given task.

Building in extra time for detours is critical. For example, your child hates all of his sketches or his teacher is unable to review his work in a timely matter. Learning to anticipate and budget time for these roadblocks will save a great deal of anguish later on as deadlines draw near.

Step 3: Recognize and reward effort.

Realize that your child will not achieve every goal he sets for himself… and that’s okay. Giving up occasionally is okay, too, when a long-held goal becomes less important to your child.

For example, a burning desire to become a professional baseball player from ages 7-12 may be supplanted by a newfound interest in tennis. Or, the goal to win the State Spelling Bee takes a backseat to a desire to become involved in robotics.

It’s important that children know that goals can be fluid and that the effort previously expended – whether or not the goal was a achieved – was not wasted. Much was undoubtedly learned.

As they continue to strive, children will come to understand that learning how to set goals and take each of the steps necessary to achieve them is a worthy achievement in itself!

This article originally appeared in the Community News.

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