I recently re-joined the gym. The next step in my goal of an overall healthy lifestyle. An action step that is only a piece of the metaphorical, and ironic, “pie” that is this lifestyle change. A pie that includes multiple other pieces. Some big, some small. Some easy, some hard. Some eaten with vigor and excitement, others choked down with resentment. Some forgotten about, requiring diligence and reminders. Others easily accomplished.
Anyway, while I was reveling in the rows of empty ellipticals, a thought came to me – “Pretty soon this place is going to be jammed packed with New Years resolutioners”. Yes that’s right, “resoultioners” look it up. I believe it means those who decide, again, for the 10th year in a row, to make a lifestyle change; that this year is going to be the one. They start off strong, inspired by their dreams of change, and somehow despite their best efforts, putter to a halt, for whatever reason.
This made me think – how can this cycle be broken so that a better example of goal setting is role modeled for children? How can we as adults help our kids develop realistic goals and take steady and planful action towards those goals. To set them up on a trajectory of inspiration, motivation and momentum, peppered with rewards to keep them going.
Some have probably heard of S.M.A.R.T goals. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound. There seems to be validity in an approach to setting goals that make sense, can be tracked, have taken into account how they can be reached, seem reasonable for the person to achieve a desired outcome, and have some semblance of a target date to increase the likelihood that the goal can be checked off the list.
So in light of all that, I offer the following as a general outline to begin this process with your child:
Specific: The goals should be clear. You can help your child clarify goals by working through the “what, why and how” with them. Help them brain storm but let them choose. Ultimately, the goal has to be theirs, not yours.
Measurable: There has to be a way to track progress. This helps to show if the goal has been achieved or not and keeps the momentum moving forward. Help your child answer: What can be done now to start working towards this goal? What needs to be accomplished by next week, next month, in the next 3 months (you get the point) to achieve the target? Help your child create a visual. A vision board, poster, or some sort of checklist, can serve as a tool to keep the goals in the forefront of their minds, and also helps monitor progress. Ask questions like “How will you know when you have accomplished this goal?” “What will help you monitor how you are doing?”
Achievable: Big or small, we need to see that we are reaching milestones along the way to stay motivated. If the goal they set seems outrageous (i.e. becoming an NFL star), help them to break that goal down into small, attainable, short term goals (action steps). Maybe your child needs to learn how to play football first. Help them think about the small action steps that go into a goal like learning a new sport. Even big goals that seem out of reach can be achieved by taking steady action along the way.
Relevant: To set your child up for success, the goals need to be relevant. Important questions to ask: Is it something they care about? Or, is it something they think they should care about but aren’t truly invested in? Does the goal make sense, for them, at this time?
Time bound: Help your child figure out the target date for the overall goal. This sets up accountability and makes it easier to create actions steps to be accomplished along the way. This critical step to goal setting also outlines a map to the goal and creates a reward system for our brains. An organ that responds to rewards, keeping us motivated and on track.
One final tip:
Role Model: I’ve said this before, kids learn more from what we do than what we say. You can have greater impact by being an example…make it a family effort.
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Are you feeling like the daily struggle is just too much? Are you worried your child may have needs that extend beyond what you are currently able to offer them? Do you live in Central New York? If you are interested in learning more about psychotherapy and play therapy for your child I can be reached at 315-737-3094 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennie Mazza Jones, LCSW, CCPT has a private practice located in Clinton NY, where she specializes in providing psychotherapy to children and their caregivers utilizing Play Therapy. Jennie helps kids who long to feel accepted, want to do well, and wish they could control their worries, anger, and behaviors, but struggle because they communicate in a way that many adults don’t understand. She also helps parents/caregivers who want to help the important children in their lives reach their truest potential, but are afraid to make the wrong move, fear the worst, or are just unsure of what to do next. Jennie can be reached 315-737-3094, email@example.com and jenniemazzajones.com