How to help your children set and achieve goals

Line of smiling children
Reaching the goals we set for ourselves is tricky enough, so how can we teach our children the skills to set their own targets for achievement, and, most importantly, stick to them? Amy Schofield reports.

Goal setting is an important life skill, and the sooner that children start to learn the importance of achieving what they set out to do, the sooner they learn that they have the power to make things happen. Goal setting helps children to:

  • Identify what is important to them in life
  • Motivate themselves
  • Build self-confidence and self-esteem

Life coach Eve Menezes Cunningham of Apple Coaching specialises in psychology, wellbeing, health and self-help. According to Eve, it is important that parents do not impose their own ideas on their children, and recognise that children have their own likes, dislikes, and ideas of where they want to go. Pushing them to achieve goals that they are not interested in themselves can be counter-productive. “Watch your kids. They already have goals. Allow them to unfold and encourage them,” explains Eve. “Don't try to override their goals with your own. What do your children like to do? What do they see as their next step? What would be a long term goal for them that's fun as well as challenging?”

We are born with a natural curiosity about the world around us, but as we grow we can become afraid of reaching for what we want for fear of failing. It is important to provide our children with a supportive, pressure-free environment where they feel safe to try new things, and where they are not afraid of ‘failing’. “Humans love to learn. It's only as we get older (and discouraged) that each attempt feels more like a failure than a step that's brought us closer,” says Eve. “It's important to let your children know you love them no matter what they do.”

Getting motivated

Communication is key to avoiding conflict and de-motivation. “To help children feel motivated, they must feel they're living their own life and not trying to live for anyone else. If you have a different goal to theirs, talk to your child about it,” explains Eve. “Don't automatically assume you know what's best. If they don't feel like it's their goal, they will dig their heels in.”

Leading by example helps to motivate your children to make and achieve their goals. “The best example you can set is to achieve your own goals. When kids see happy parents who've reached the milestones they've set themselves, it trickles down as confidence,” says Eve. “Happier, fulfilled parents are much nicer for children to be around than parents who are trying to live through their kids, and potentially setting impossible goals for them.”

Motivate your child by sharing your own experiences of achievement. “Tell them stories about how you achieved certain goals; maybe when you were their age you spent all summer learning how to do a backflip and you didn't give up, and that moment was so worth it,” says Eve. “Let them share in the satisfaction that comes from a job well done.”

Recognise and support

Recognising your child’s talents and interests is vital because they are more likely to stay motivated if they are interested in what they are working towards. “Honour what's important to them. If you were into sports and they're more into reading, don't underestimate the goal of ploughing through an enormous novel. Encourage their natural gifts. This will build core confidence which they can then apply to other areas,” Eve says.

If your child is having trouble achieving their goals, help them by providing practical as well as emotional support. “Give them a big hug. Empathise with them. Let them know you know it's hard but they can do better. Help them identify the extra support they need and see if you can help them with it or help them come up with a plan to get it,” suggests Eve. “Remind them of the things they've achieved. Make sure they always have someone to talk to - if not a person, perhaps a diary - to allow them to express all their feelings, not just the feelings adults approve of, so they can flow through them instead of becoming stuck.”

Three steps to setting and achieving goals:

1. Break your child’s goals down into achievable chunks, so that they can take small steps day by day
2. Encourage your child to identify goals that they will enjoy working towards
3. Make sure your child knows that while it is important to work towards a goal, it is also okay if they don’t achieve their desired result.