How to Help Your Child Set Goals for the School Year
By Andrew Tipp
Although it might feel like the long summer days could stretch on forever, the start of the school year is right around the corner. This is the perfect time to begin setting goals for your children. Making plans before the academic year starts can ensure that your family has clear objectives for the next 10 months.
But why set goals? What’s the point? Well, we’re all probably guilty of seeking out quick wins and fast fixes and searching out instant gratification. This is something we easily pass on to children, and it’s good practice to stamp it out. Setting goals and working hard towards achieving them teaches kids a valuable life lesson.
Working towards a goal gives children the experience of what it feels like when you accomplish something you set your mind to, and that’s a good thing. On a more short-term, practical level, setting a goal for the year is likely to improve your child’s learning and performance, so making these plans can help avoid painful failures.
Out of the blocks
It’s a good idea to set goals early. If you want to focus on improving your child’s reading, writing, behaviour in class or any type of measurable school activity then it’s vital that you begin before the school year starts. Don’t wait until the first report comes in flagging up need for improvement. If you start setting goals then it’ll feel like playing catch-up all year.
To get started it’s best to grab a pen, some notepaper and a calendar. Electronic calendars and notes are fine, but sometimes creating a tangible record is the way to go. Cross-reference this with your child’s school schedule and any after-school clubs they might be getting involved in, like chess, dance or sports.
It might go without saying, but make sure you sit down with your child as well. Make them involved in the goal-setting. Take the time to listen and hear what they want to get out of the school year ahead. The important thing here is to make the goals relevant to kids – make them feel like they’re the one setting them. If they don’t feel like it’s their goal, they’ll dig their heels in and probably refuse to seriously commit.
Keep it believable and achievable
When it comes to setting the level of goal that you want to achieve with your kids, be realistic. Try not to overestimate (or underestimate) how much your child will be able to improve by in any particular activity or discipline. There’s a famous 90 per cent rule – set goals that you think there’s a 90 per cent chance they’ll achieve. We’ve all felt the pressure to hit targets in life that seem demoralising and unattainable. Don’t put that on your children. It will be crushing and almost certainly hit their self-esteem.
Something that divides opinion is whether children should be competing against themselves or others. Both have merit, and learning to pitch your own performance against others is another life skill. But perhaps it’s wisest to err on the side of competing against your own targets. Your own goals.
Small goals make the big one easier
When you feel like you’ve got the goals set up, break the plan down into chunks. Most life-hacking experts will tell you that long lists don’t get done, but small ones do. So divide up the goals into incremental sub-goals – this can make the final goal seem more achievable if there is a consistent flow of mini-achievements.
If we extrapolate this idea, it leads to gamification. Gamifying behavior sounds very clever and complicated but is actually very simple: it’s about making any behavior more engaging and compelling by turning it into a game. This is perfect for setting goals for the school year. So when you divide up the big goal into smaller goals, make it clear that your child has “passed a level” by awarding them with a new badge or status.
These gamified “check-ins” on progress can be remarkably effective. Think back to the smiley sticker charts you used to compete in when you were younger. It’s the same principle, but with your family creating its own reward system.
Make it a family project
Speaking of family, make your child’s school goals a family affair. Grandparents are hugely important in the raising of children these days, and there’s no reason not to bring them in on the goal-setting. If you want to, you could make the planning of the school year goals a grandparent-grandchild collaboration. A special project. Just remember to allow your parents >some time off to relax and hang out with other older grown-ups!
Above all, and whatever family you involve, be reassuring, supportive and encouraging throughout the “project”. If a mid-semester report comes in showing less progress than you’d all planned, stay positive and don’t give up.
It might be tempting to dangle a big reward at the end of the project when your child reaches their school year goal. But many education specialists advise against this. Offering money, toys, candy or other incentives might be more effective in achieving that specific goal, but it doesn’t pass on the valuable life lesson of the achievement being its own reward. So maybe try to avoid bribing your kids to school success.
A final thought: if you succeed 90 per cent of the time, you’ll fail 10 per cent of time. While you always hope your kids will achieve their goals, make it clear to them that falling short is still okay. Even if they’ve just missed their target, they’ll probably still have improved. Always try and emphasise the positives.