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How to Set a Goal with Your Child

Posted by Jennie Wallace

I think of January like my very own reset button—a chance to reboot and start all over again. There’s something about the fresh start of a new year that makes change, goals and resolutions feel more attainable. Kids can be motivated by that clean slate effect, too.

With this in mind, the experts at Empowering Parents have come up with a wonderfully simple, yet effective worksheet to help children set and achieve their goals. I’m emphasizing their because as the parent to three children, I know if I’m pitting my goals for my children against their goals for themselves, I’ll always lose.

The worksheets are designed to be used for any kind of goal, from behavioral changes to everyday changes that may seem big and a little out of reach. I sat my children down this month to ask them what their goals were for the coming year.

My first grader loves to read. This year, she tells me, she’d like to be an even better reader. I share with her an old saying:  A goal without a plan is just a wish.  So, together we talk though a simple 4-step plan that can help make her goal a reality:

Step One:  I ask Caroline to be as specific as possible about her goal. “I want to read longer chapter books,” she says. So, we go online together and write out a list of new chapter books that are still within her reach.

Step Two: For a goal to feel attainable, I explain, we want to give it a clear time-frame.  Caroline suggests reading one new book a week for the month of January.

Step Three: Now we identify obstacles that could get in the way, like her brothers’ “interrupting” her and needing extra time at night to get through one book a week.

Step Four:  For the final step, I ask her to choose a motivating reward.  She chooses a new set of markers.

While Caroline’s goal is academic, these steps are just as applicable to other goals, like limiting bickering among siblings, stepping up with chores, or saving money.  Goal setting is a great way to teach children how to problem solve and how to break down a big idea into smaller, achievable components.  If Caroline sticks to the plan, she’ll feel like a better, more accomplished reader by the end of January.  But even more importantly, she’ll feel the success and confidence that comes from setting a goal and actually hitting it.

Have your children set goals this year? What are they?


About Jennie Wallace

Jennifer is freelance writer for The Wall Street Journal and several national magazines. Earlier in her career, she was a journalist for “60 Minutes.” She lives in New York with her husband and their three children, ages 9, 7 and 4. You can read her other work at

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