A few years ago, after we had just had our 2nd daughter, my husband got an internship in a neighboring state that necessitated us moving from our current location to another, about an 8 hour drive. My husband and I had to drive two vehicles to make this work. I had a 2 month old in our small, grey car and my husband had our 3 year old in the moving truck. This was before the days of GPS and (for me, at least) cell phones and I was terrified that we would get separated and I would have no idea where to go.
After driving for a few hours, getting comfortable with the process and staying the night in the hotel, because yeah, we totally broke that up into two driving sessions, I was able to come up with a strategy to feel less worried about getting lost. I decided to focus on knowing what the next step was, whether that was the next city, the next highway or the next exit. Focusing on the next step allowed me to relax a little, knowing that if I stayed focus on that and my husband’s vehicle ahead, I was not likely to get too far off course.
Raising my kids is another area of my life where I can easily get nervous about getting too far off course. Only in this arena, there are no equivalent roadmaps, GPS systems or cell phones that will be of use. I have discovered it is useful to use the same strategy I used in that moving trip: to focus on the next step and to do so by setting goals with and about my kiddos. Figuring out the next step allows me to relax amidst the inevitable difficulties.
Besides being a good way to track my progress in child rearing, I’ve also noticed other benefits from setting goals including the following:
- Less for me to do, as kids become competent, I am able to make fewer meals, clean less bathrooms, etc.
- My kid’s own sense of pride and self-confidence has increased.
- A greater understanding and love for my kids.
- Gratitude increases, both from my kids and from me.
It’s not always sundrops and roses, though. It’s been difficult for me to know what to teach them when and how to help them achieve their goals without losing my mind.
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Understanding that goals would help me and how to implement them came from experience and reading a few good books. One book that helped me in particular, was The Parenting Breakthrough by Merilee Boyack, in it she laid out a year by year plan of what she would teach or encourage her children to learn that year. I realized I could do that, too. I could figure out what was important to me and create a plan around that. So, I began to set goals of what I would teach them yearly and the results have been amazing. The following is the practice of goal-setting we use with our kids that we’ve adapted, very loosely, from this book:
Step 1: Figure out what goals you need to help them with.
Before I sit down with them, I think of a few categories of goals that I need to help them set goals in, generally, these have been cooking, cleaning and life skills. These are all goals, that I or another adult will need to teach them. They are, in reality, not so much goals for them as they are goals for me. I look up age appropriate tasks they can do in each category and write them down. Here is where I found these guidelines:
Step 2: Give them autonomy.
This plan is pretty sure to fail if it becomes one more thing that I make my kids do, so, next, I make sure to give them some choice in which goals they set. A lot of the time, the goals they pick give me great insight to what’s important to them. Occasionally, they pick something I would have picked for them, but a lot of times, it’s something they’ve clearly been thinking about and wanting to do for awhile, that I had no idea about. I do give them categories for these goals, just to get them thinking, they are:
- Something they want to do
- Spiritual Goal
- Academic Goal
- Goal related to a passion or hobby
Step 3: Set them up for success.
Hopefully, you’ve already thought about whether or not the goals you and your child have set are realistic and achievable for you both, but if not, here is the point when you double check that you and your child have what you need to accomplish the goal. This would include the necessary time, development and resources. If the goal is to practice soccer for 15 minutes a day, for example, you would want to make sure your child realistically has 15 minutes a day to spend on it-which can be a stretch sometimes. It can also be helpful to think of what your child needs to succeed independent of your help. A little instruction and guidance is great, but so, too can be good books, online courses or tools necessary to the specific goal. Some resources that would be helpful could include:
Age appropriate cooking tools like these ones:
and a step stool, so they can reach to help.
An alarm clock or watch to help them keep track of time for various goals.
kid friendly cookbooks,
or other books that help them learn about specific skills such as this one about coding,
If you have time and resources, I would also highly recommend signing them up for a class that will teach them the necessary skill.
Step 4: Check in.
After getting set up, including giving them initial instruction it is time to let them start the work of achieving goals. As they get easily distracted at this point, it can be really helpful to check in with them periodically on their progress. This does not have to be too formal, a little informal guidance as well as noticing (and praising) what they’re doing well at or noticing (and trouble shooting) when they have difficulty seems to work well.
Step 5: Reward.
It can sometimes be helpful to tie a reward to goals, though certainly, you want to be careful not to create rewards that are too big, as the best reward will be their own sense of accomplishment and the pride and self-confidence they gain from learning a new skill. It is best if these are tied to the goal in some way (a book for reading, for example) and are not too big.
We made our yearly plan with the kids just a week or so ago. This is what has happened so far. My kindergartner put herself to bed last night because she said she was ready for us to stop tucking her in (I know some of you might like to do that forever, we like to ease them out of it around age 5 and that was one of her goals). My 9 year old son chose to focus better in class, something he has been struggling with and has already improved his grades. My 2 older daughters (10 and 13) have been listening to the scriptures in an effort to finish it on their own. I started working with my toddler in potty training.
I do think they’re awesome kids, but I don’t think this just happened. Creating an expectation that they will improve, giving them guidance and support to help them do so and then being interested in the process of what they are doing- that has been the catalyst.
If you haven’t, yet, set goals with your kids, I encourage you to try it. Set aside some time to write goals about what you will teach them. If you have set goals with your kids, I’d love to hear how you did it and what works well for you. And either way, I hope you are not feeling lost or too off course in the monumental task of raising kids to be responsible , caring and capable adults: a big task for sure.
What goals will you work on with your kids this year and why?
Write it down in a journal, talk it over with a friend or leave a comment on Facebook.