graphic showing five steps to goal-setting (e.g. set goal, make plan, etc.)With all the time that’s been freed up from having to go to school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many kids are taking online lessons directly from their school, others are engaged with formal or informal homeschooling programs, and still others are just taking it easy and ”chilling.”  In the midst of all this activity (or lack of it) I’d like to suggest that parents consider helping their children or adolescents with an incredibly important skill they will be able to use for the rest of their lives:  how to set goals.  Some examples of goals might include:

  • learning how to code
  • making a robot
  • writing a short story
  • finishing tonight’s homework
  • saving up enough money to buy Virtual Reality goggles

Regardless of what the goal is, there are several important principles that you can share with your child or teen so that their chances of meeting their goal is significantly improved.  Here are some guidelines:

  1. Clarify Exactly What the Goal Looks Like.  If your child wants to learn coding for example, have him specify exactly what coding system he wants to learn, and what completing the goal looks like (e.g. ”I will be able to create a simple video game using the Ruby coding language”).
  2. Define the Particular Steps that Will Lead to Achieving the Goal:  Simply having a goal to work toward isn’t enough.  It’s important to specify the actual behaviors that will lead toward the accomplishment of the goal (e.g. 1. I will watch videos on coding with Ruby, 2. I will find examples of video game codes using Ruby, 3. I will write the code, 4. I will check the code for bugs, etc.).
  3. Envision the Good Things that Will Happen When the Goal is Achieved.  A big part of meeting a goal involves having the motivation to keep at it when difficulties or uncertainties are encountered.  One good way to get through these difficulties is by visualizing what it will look like once the goal is achieved (e.g. ”I will be able to show off the video game to my family, my friends, and my class at school”).
  4. Think About What Might Get in the Way of Accomplishing the Goal.  In addition to problems that may arise in the course of the actual project, there are things that can come up to prevent or delay the goal from ever happening (e.g. wasting time watching TV, playing existing video games instead of creating a new one, forgetting to work on the project every day, feeling that the goal is too difficult to achieve etc.).
  5. Think About What Can be Done to Overcome the Obstacles to Accomplishing the Goal.  If you feel that the goal is too difficult, you can always redefine your goal so that it is more easily completed (e.g. you might change your goal to simply:  ”I will learn to code using Ruby”).  In other cases, one needs to be skillful in coming up with ingenious ways to master old habits that prevent the goal from being accomplished (e.g. ”I’ll put a note on the TV saying ‘Work On Your Video Game,” or “I’ll limit myself to playing one video game per day, so I have more time to work on my project,” or I’ll make a poster that encourages me to keep at it” or ”I’ll set aside 20 minutes every evening to work on my goal” etc.).
  6. Detail What You Plan to Do Once You’ve Achieved Your Goal.   In some instances, simply achieving the goal is itself its own reward.  But it helps to think about specific things in your life that will be different after you’ve achieved your goal (e.g. ”I’ll have the confidence to know that I can learn other coding languages” ”I might make new friends if I show my program to kids in the school’s coding club”).
  7. Finally, Make Sure You Establish a Deadline For When the Goal Should be Accomplished.  Without a deadline, the project could drag on and on without much ever happening (many a goal has hit the dust because it didn’t include a date for when it should have been completed). You might say, ”Well, if I set a deadline, I might not meet it, and then what do I do?” The answer is ”create a new deadline.” You might also need to make changes in the existing goal as noted above, to make it more feasible or realistic, but there’s nothing wrong with creating new deadlines, one after the other.  I had a goal to write a novel, and I must have changed the deadline scores of times but I finally wrote it!

These steps toward goal-setting apply to both small goals (”I will finish my homework tonight”) as well as big goals (”I will get into the college of my choice when I graduate from high school”), and they also apply to everything in between.  As a homeschooling parent (or teacher) you can help coach your child or teen with encouraging words, reminders, and suggestions, but in the end, it is the work they do and the stick-to-it-iveness that they display, that will be the crucial factor in whether or not they reach their goals.  As motivational expert Zig Ziglar once said:  ”What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”


For more information on helping your child or teen achieve more of their learning potential, see my best-selling book In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences.

This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.

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I'm the author of 19 books including my latest: If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education - https://amzn.to/2KAxT8F.

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