Children often struggle with delayed gratification, but teaching goal setting through fun activities encourages children to persevere in the challenge. Young children are concrete thinkers and need a clear plan with measurable steps to achieve a goal. Children are also more likely to follow through when the goal is intrinsically enjoyable; external reinforcement and celebration just add frosting on the cake.
Create a set of goal cards; encourage your child to list short-term, mid-range and long-term goals. Work together to brainstorm creative ideas. Suggest young children draw pictures of the goals and dreams. Include easy things like brushing teeth every night before bed, as well as goals that require more time and commitment; for example, reading a certain number of books during the summer or hiking in the Swiss Alps. Dreams that transcend one person or lifetime, such as contributing to a cure for a disease or supporting wildlife conservation, encourage the child to think beyond his own gain. Make a game grid with one square each for short-term, mid-range, long-term and generational. Take turns drawing cards and deciding to which category each goal belongs. Encourage the child to develop a plan in order to be successful; list steps and activities required to fulfill the dream.
Keep a child's first goal simple and age-appropriate. Have him write or draw the goal, along with a checklist of action steps with deadlines. Post the chart in a high-visibility area. As he completes each step, help him check off the step or place a sticker next to the milestone. Encourage him to persist, but keep it lighthearted and fun.
Read stories about historical figures, such as the American colonists, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, who overcame great obstacles in pursuit of their dreams. Write an acrostic poem using the word "DREAM," "GOAL" or each letter of the alphabet. Include tips, advice and encouragement relevant to pursuing goals and dreams. Post the poem next to the goal chart and encourage the child to read it when feeling discouraged.
Celebrate success when the child achieves her goal. Age-appropriate rewards plant a seed for future goal-setting pursuits. Some rewards are built-in, such as learning to swim, but a family trip to a lake or a pool party provides an additional avenue to show off her new skills. Gauge the reward level with the difficulty, age and personality of the child. A high five, hug, "Good job!" or celebratory dinner with friends and family encourage continued goal-setting behavior.
Quality time rewards, high fives and congratulatory words are more sustainable for parents than material gifts. Material gifts work better when directly related to the goal and useful in sustaining it. For instance, if your child worked hard to make the baseball team, surprise him with a new baseball glove.
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