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Helping children set and achieve goals

January 9, 2018
Denise Yearian ,

When children set and achieve personal goals, it can affect the way they view themselves, their academics and their activities, both now and in the future. But for many, goal setting doesn't just happen. Often it's an acquired skill that requires the guidance, support and encouragement of a parent or mentor. Once learned, children can turn today's dreams into tomorrow's reality.

Taylor Hollingsworth is a prime example. Ever since her mother can remember, the preteen has enjoyed entertaining others and made it her goal early on to become a professional singer.

"By the time Taylor was in fifth grade she had gotten a lot of positive feedback with different performances so by year's end she was ready to step it up a notch," says the mother of her now 12-year old. "We decided a good next step was to enroll her in a performing arts school so she could major in voice and minor in theater."

Frank McIntosh, president of the local Junior Achievement, believes it's never too early to start children on the goal-setting track. What's most important, though, is that the goals be self-directed.

"If the child owns his goal, he's more likely to embrace it and have the motivation and commitment to work toward attaining it," says McIntosh. "It's okay for parents to give input and guidance but it needs to be driven by the child."

This was the case with Dave Resler's daughter. From the time she was in fourth grade, Stephanie had run short distances in track. Upon entering high school, she joined cross country and so increased her distance from one-quarter to over three miles. But her biggest running goal came at the end of her freshman year.

"One day Stephanie came to me and said she wanted to join the 300-Mile Club at school that summer," says the father of his now 16-year-old. "I knew it was a realistic goal, so together we sat down and did the math - how often she would have to run over the course of three months."

"When children formulate a goal, it's a good idea if they write it down," says Linda Sullivan, local 4-H organizational leader. "This creates a clear picture in their minds of what they want to achieve, gives permanency to the goal and provides the drive and motivation to move forward."

In doing so, they should outline steps that need to be taken along the way.

"Breaking down a large goal into specific steps helps kids experience smaller goals along the way," says McIntosh. "For some, this may mean taking advantage of resources such as books, DVDs and the Internet to broaden their understanding. And never underestimate the power of third-party influence-someone who knows the ropes and can encourage your child or provide the expertise needed to fine-tune his skills."

Hollingsworth did this.

"Once Taylor was at the school, she started taking private voice lessons and we educated ourselves from a community theater perspective," she says. "We found out about opportunities at the local children's theater so she auditioned for two plays there and was given a part each time. On both occasions we watched the related movies and learned the songs."

"While outlining specific steps, have your child consider potential obstacles that may hinder goal attainment and create a plan to overcome them," says Sullivan. "Also establish a time frame for achieving the goal. This provides a sense of urgency and lets your child know if he's on track. It also gives him the opportunity to reassess his goal, if necessary."

"One thing Stephanie and I discussed was how she was going to get her miles in when it was 95 degrees outside. I told her, 'You need to know and plan for times when it will be difficult to run,'" says Resler. "We also talked about her progress along the way. When August rolled around, she was a little behind so she increased her weekly distances. And by summer's end she had officially run 300 miles."

Taylor has made progress with her singing goal too.

"She gleaned a lot of experience from her time at performing arts school, but the following year she returned to her former academic setting," says Hollingsworth. "Soon after we reapplied, we learned they were doing a production of Oliver and Taylor started preparing right away. When audition time came, she got the leading role. Right now we're looking at moving to the next level-getting an agent who can possibly take her outside the community to some larger cities."

Experts agree the best thing parents can do to help their children set and achieve goals is to guide them in understanding what their strengths are, help them create a feasible plan and then become their cheerleader. But ultimately attaining the goal is up to them.

"One time I gave a commencement address and I challenged students to internalize ten small words that could dramatically affect their future," says McIntosh. "'If it is to be, it is up to me.'"



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