Last month, we discussed how to set some summer goals for kids. Now, with the 2024-2025 school year about to begin, it’s a good time to think about encouraging students of all ages to set some academic goals for the upcoming year.

Goal setting not only helps children achieve personal milestones, but it can also be an effective tool in encouraging and securing academic success for your child and can provide them with tools they can use for the rest of their lives.

What Goals Do

Goals give focus, set priorities, allow progress to be measured, allow boundaries to be set, provide a system of accountability, and can be motivational. Goals, and reaching them, give kids confidence and courage.

Make sure your child can clearly understand what a goal is. It’s not some intangible thing—it’s a defined result, a destination, the endpoint of a journey or an effort. A goal takes work to achieve. Reaching a goal requires action.

Where to Start

Most of us already unconsciously set goals of varying degrees and importance. Everyone who has done some chore around the house has set a goal, and all goals go through a similar process. Look at the steps involved in the simple chore of buying groceries:

  1. Setting the goal (restocking the pantry or fridge or maybe just getting the ingredients for dinner)
  2. Making an action plan (writing a grocery list and scheduling when to go to the store)
  3. Visualizing the goal and think about what you’re going to do to finish the task (deciding which stores to go to or checking the sale pages to see which place has the best prices on the items on your lists, gathering coupons, etc.)
  4. Fulfilling the goal (by going to the store, crossing items off your list, then bringing the items home, and putting the groceries away or making the meal)

Everyone … from kids to large companies … go through these same steps to reach their goals.

With children, though, you might want to gradually introduce them to this process. Many educational resources suggest setting smaller, very short-term goals with children early on. When setting longer-term goals with them, you should help them make an action plan for achieving those goals, and then use reminders to keep them on track.

Be S.M.A.R.T. About Goal Setting

Today, it’s not uncommon for educators to use the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines when teaching children to set goals. This method is a useful tool for setting effective goals both at school and at home.

Specific – Set goals that are specific and clear. Write each in positive terms; write what your child wants to accomplish rather than what they don’t want. For example, instead of “don’t get in trouble” , setting a goal of “earning a good-conduct grade weekly” is more specific, and positive. It also meets the other four criteria below.

Measurable – This guideline directs you to establish criteria for how the goal is to be achieved. Thais is vital; there has to be a way to show, both, how to accomplish a goal and when the result has been met.

Action-Oriented/Attainable – Goals should be attainable, meaning within your/your child’s grasp. They should also be action-oriented, requiring you/your child to take action to reach the desired result. This guideline might require an action plan or a map showing how to achieve a particular goal. Typically, these are made up of steps, which will lead to the completion of a given goal, and they can be as simple as a to-do list or something more involved for longer-term goals.

Realistic – When setting goals, you should keep in mind what resources and constraints apply to your and your child’s particular situations. A goal should require your child to stretch a bit, while still allowing for the likelihood of success.

Timely – A goal should have a concrete endpoint; a timeframe in which it should be accomplished. It should also allow a child adequate time to complete the actions needed to meet the goal, but, by the same token, the plan should not allow so much time that he/she might lose focus or motivation.

Making it Happen

Your child might need an adult’s assistance defining the steps and prioritizing them to increase their chances of success. The smaller the steps, the better, which will show a child that large goals can be met with much smaller steps, which will help them feel like they can achieve all their goals.

Don’t forget to celebrate your children’s goals once reached. This doesn’t need to be a gift or a night out, though it certainly can be. Having their achievement recognized is more important than how it is recognized. With longer-term goals, knowing something pleasant is waiting at the end of the journey can help motivate your child to accomplish his/her goal. Take the time to bask in their success with them. Plus, focusing on their successes makes a child more likely to set and achieve future goals.

Setting goals, like so many activities, improves with time and practice, so keep working on it with your child. Repeat the process regularly. Try new methods. Keep it fresh and fun.