Teaching our kids to set goals

This past week we tried something new in our household: we set weekly goals with our children.  For years now, we’ve had family meetings where we discuss the calendar and Samantha and I share our priorities.  This has helped us stay aligned on what is happening with all the moving pieces of a semi-large family, but it hasn’t necessarily provided any level of ownership for the girls.  Given that Samantha and I are working on our own ability to set clear, simple, trackable goals, we wanted to bring the girls along for this ride so that vision-oriented goal setting becomes a habit.  Like most parents realize eventually, if you want your children to do something, it has to be caught and taught (and those two must align: i.e what you’re teaching and how you’re living).

Here’s a quick video demonstrating what we did.  Given that it was a first for us, of course we’ll iterate and improve, but even this first attempt at joint goal setting was instructive for many reasons.  Here’s what we are learning as parents and here’s what we hope our children will learn in the process:

Our learning as parents

Our biggest realization was that we should do this regularly to solidify the habit of goal setting.  Additionally, probably the most important conversation isn’t the setting of the goal, but the reflection conversation where we assess progress towards the goal at the end of the week.  What happens when you miss the goal?  What happens when you exceed the goal?  That’s where the fun parenting takes place because these conversations are rich with opportunities to discuss failure, success, and how we view them both in real time.

Our opportunity to model our responses towards success or failure too is important.  This was a tough week for me to hit my personal goal of family times 3 times this week because I traveled.  Knowing at the beginning that this was a priority of mine, I shifted some things around in my schedule to make it happen.   When I actually exceeded the goal (4 times-including family movie night on Friday!) the girls knew exactly what I was celebrating and why.  As a bonus, they got to see something important modeled about what it means to work hard towards a goal.

In parenting, showing is better than telling.  We learned this firsthand with our 16 year old niece who lived with us for a year.  She had little knowledge of how to organize her day, much less her life.   Consequently, helping her learn how to prioritize her time took a tremendous amount of energy.  Looking back, our biggest aha was the realization that in order for children to become successful adults who can manage their lives well, they have to first see their lives as their own to manage and believe in goal setting as a means to an end.

What our children are learning about goal setting

As we’ve introduced these concepts to our girls (mind you they’re 8, 6, 3, and 3 months old), it’s been in small pieces.  For their weekly goals, we decided to have them start with what is important to them right now.  It helps if this is connected to what they’ve articulated about something big picture that’s important to them (but not necessary) because right now the purpose is more about building the habit.  We wanted to keep it simple, so first we started with defining a goal as something you want to achieve, this week, that we can measure.  Then we all shared our own goals out loud so there was public accountability, and later posted them on the fridge.

My hope is that they will learn some of the same lessons my wife and I are learning in real time.  Sometimes choosing the right goal is hard.  Sometimes prioritizing your time to achieve that goal requires saying yes to things and no to others.  Sometimes you know the thrill of accomplishing a goal, and sometimes you fail and miss it by a mile.  I want the girls to have experiences of success and failure as they learn how to set meaningful goals.  This way, they’ll also understand the path towards living a life of purpose and meaning.



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