Goal Setting With Children
By Rhonda Tournay
Goal setting for children is best done with the child. No different
than you and I, we like things done with us not to us and the same
goes for our children. Their age will determine their level of
participation. Goal setting is a wonderful skill for children to
learn at an early age, so here are some pointers to get you started.
There are three main reasons for goal setting with children. The
first is based on wanting to acquire a new skill. The second reason
is to assist a child in learning a new skill or behaviour to replace
an undesired behaviour. The third is to learn a new skill that is to
contribute to a family principle or value (what is important to your
family?) The key to setting goals is to ensure that they are worded
positively and that they are: achievable, measureable, and chunked
down into small pieces. Very often we spend our time telling
children what not to do without ever telling them what to do. Think
about this when you set your goals.
Skill Desired: to learn to make lunches independently
Goal: I will make a healthy lunch the night before by 7:00pm on
school nights by myself.
This goal has a positive tone, it says what will be done, when it
will be done and how it will be done, all of these items are used to
measure success with the goal. We can measure this goal by going
into the kitchen at 7pm and find a healthy lunch packed, ready to go
and made independently. If so, then the goal for that day is met.
Suggestions for parents to help their child succeed: What are
healthy lunch choices to choose from? Create an approved list that
can be kept on the fridge for your child to see when they are making
their lunch. This will avoid arguments about what can be taken to
school and what can't. It also helps to increase the sense of
accomplishment! Determine ahead of time what items need to be packed
and keep that on your list for the fridge. You may want them to
ensure that they have packed: a sandwich, a fruit, a snack and a
What is the undesirable behaviour? Look at the flip side, what is
the desirable behaviour? If the undesirable behaviour is: ignore you
when they are asked to do something then the desirable behaviour is:
to do what they have been asked to do the first time they are asked.
Goal: I will do as I am asked the first time I am asked to do
something by my parent(s).
Suggestions for parents to help their child succeed: Positively
reinforce by identifying when they responded appropriately to your
request and congratulating them on remembering and following
through. This helps to increase their sense of accomplishment and it
reinforces that the goal they are working on is important. If there
is no response when they have met expectation, some children may
declare it not important enough to bother trying.
What is the family principle or value that you want to promote? Some
examples of family principles and values are: contributing by doing
which enhances a sense of belonging, cleanliness, honesty, respect
for self and others etc.
Goal: I will clean up my toys and put them back where they belong
when I am done with them. (This goal combines many family values and
principles: contributing by doing, cleanliness, respect for: others,
home and belongings)
Suggestions for parents to help their child succeed: Positively
reinforce by providing encouraging feedback when they follow through
with their goal, support by providing a reminder if necessary
(usually necessary if they have already gotten into the habit of
play with it and drop it to go do something else), Use encouraging
statements, role model and make comment when you do the same " see,
when mom/dad is finished using something we have to put it back
where it belongs too" and thank them for respecting the family value
or principle. Charting is an important step to ensure that the goal
is objective and helps to determine when a goal has been met.
Sometimes we base success or failure on our feelings and not fact.
Charting helps to eliminate this from happening. For example your
child may have had a terrible evening with goal two, however because
we marked the morning and afternoon we realize that it was not the
whole day but rather a portion. This allows our children to get the
acknowledgement they deserve and not be penalized for one difficult
Create a chart to track current daily goals. Use or make a weekly
calendar so you can track one week at a time. The first row would
state: goal and the days of the week. The next row would state the
actual goal and in each box under the appropriate day should be
split into three sections: am, noon and pm so that all three areas
get marked. Be sure that at any one time there are no more than
three goals being worked on. You can use stickers, stars, check
marks or anything you and your child choose to mark the chart for
success. If they did not meet their daily goal, then just put your
initial (so it is clear that you didn't forget to mark it)
Determine what it means for a goal to be met. For example with the
first goal, once the child has successfully made their lunch for 14
consecutive days it is safe to consider the goal met. Determine what
success means to you and your child. In no way should we expect
perfection from our children, however if the goal is realistic and
you have taken into consideration the child's age and ability it is
not unheard of for them to be able to demonstrate success
consistently. In some cases depending on the goal you may consider
the goal met if they can achieve success 25 out of 30 days. What
ever you and your child are comfortable with. You may wish to
continue to use the chart as a reminder of responsibilities but it
is no longer considered an active goal.
A good rule of thumb is to expect your child to achieve 50% in the
first week, 75% in the second week etc. Set a review date with your
child where you will look at one or two week's worth of charts to
see how things are doing. If the child is not achieving the level of
success they desire, then re-evaluate the level of support required
to achieve success. It might be as simple as your child needing a
reminder. Then try again for a week and review to see if that has
provided improvement. Continue fine tuning this process until the
goal has been achieved.
Depending on how you have set up your chart it can be a very useful
tool for determining patterns to behavior. Upon reviewing a week or
two worth of charts it can become clear when and where there are
consistent difficulties. If mornings and afternoons are successful
but consistent problems appear in the evenings then you can look at
what is different during that time. As above continue to fine tune
until success is achieved.
When success with a goal is not achieved it is very rarely anything
to do with the goal. However, it can happen if the goal is not
specific enough. For example if an adult were to set a goal to lose
100lbs. this goal can feel overwhelming and quickly they resort to
past eating patterns because they have given up and don't feel that
they are capable. It is no different with children sometimes we need
to break it down into manageable chunks for them. In the case of the
adult we would set a weekly goal of losing 2-3lbs that has a whole
different feel to it. No matter what the goal the way we reach every
destination is one step at a time!
Another critical point for parents to remember is to be encouraging.
Use statements like "You must be so proud of yourself, I knew you
could do it!, I know you don't feel that you have met your goal yet,
but look at how far you have come, look at the progress you have
made" These types of statements help to: increase your child's self
esteem, and unlike praise (which is reward) encouragement is a gift
that acknowledges effort and improvement, they also help to create a
sense of belonging as does setting value and principle based goals.
It helps children to appreciate: their own special qualities, feel
capable and loved for who they are. Another benefit is that it
teaches the value of pride and self satisfaction rather than having
to rely on external acknowledgement.
Goal setting for all children is important. Using a structured
formula as outlined above is can be very successful for children
with Learning Disabilities, ADD/ADHD, Autism, and Developmental
Delays and for children with other or similar challenges. The only
difference is the level of expectation and the amount of time needed
to accomplish the goal. For example for a child with autism the goal
may start as being done together hand over hand. Once success has
been made in that area we revise the goal to be done with verbal
prompts. Once success has been made there we might revise the goal
to be done independently with visual reminders (taped to the wall,
mirror etc.) posted where ever the activity might take place.
Remember success comes in all forms, celebrate the small steps along
the way, be consistent, offer encouragement and be patient. Working
together you and your child can achieve more than you might think!
Most Importantly HAVE FUN!