Goal Setting Teaches Children Patience and Perseverance

As every new year rolls around, there's a lot of talk around the gym and with my adult students about resolutions and goals for the upcoming twelve months.
 
Usually, the conversations revolve around making the time to exercise, weight-loss, finally learning self-defense or finding something that gives them a sense of progression and accomplishment.
 
But, what about the children?
 
The kids have so much externally imposed structure and requirements their personal goal setting seems to take a back seat to what we (adults) have already decided is important for them.
 
Well, that makes sense. We're the parents, teachers, or instructors after all.
 
There is then a natural focus on goal-setting for kids. We focus on setting them up for success.
 
The discussion and education around goal setting typically revolves around chunking down a larger goal into smaller, more manageable ones. In this way, the kids can see themselves incrementally making progress.
 
We also talk about the SMART algorithm. And, that's worth reviewing:
 
A goal should be SMART to have meaning and be attainable:
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Sensitive
 
All that said, what often get's missed is how proper goal-setting can also build resilience in children and help teach them to manage failure.
 
Instead of just focusing on the "result" of the goal, what about the journey? It's the journey that will teach them patience and perseverance.
 
There will be obstacles and detours along the way. And, we have to make sure they know that's normal, and that's OK.
 
Here a 5 ways to help your child benefit from the process, not just the destination of goal-setting.
 
  • Show them how, but don't do it for them. Kids don't always know all the steps or how much work a particular goal requires. As parents, our tendency might be to jump in and fill the gaps for them. Instead, show them the steps they are missing and teach them how if needed. Be there for support but, make sure you let them execute.
  • Give them a dose of reality. Along with not knowing how much work a goal will take, they might also not realize the feasibility of a goal. "You can do it!" and the power of positive thinking is great and all, but it's not appropriate in every situation. They need to know that some things are just not attainable, at least not right now.
  • Recognize and reward the performance over the result. I coached competitive taekwondo athletes (adults and children) at a high level for many years. We were always focused on the performance of the athlete over the result of the match. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, that's the nature of fight-sport. However, did you stick to the training regimen, follow your game plan, and listen to the coach's direction? Yes, but lost? Great, we learn much more from losing a hard match, than winning an easy one.
  • Make them decide. Let them choose a goal or target that interests and is important to them. We're already imposing a lot of demands and direction on them. Make them decide on at least one thing they want to achieve and follow through on the required efforts. When they pick it, they have to own it.
  • Have a game-plan for when they fail. Kids will miss their goals and targets. Sometimes, it's due to lack of effort or commitment. But, at other times it may be no fault of their own. When they miss a goal you should go over a couple things with them.
  • First, revisit the SMART algorithm, maybe the problem was a definition issue, not a process issue.
  • Second, ask them to come up with alternatives or solutions that will help them succeed if they were to try again.
  • Third, tell a story. Share a time when you failed to make a goal. Story-telling will help them not only connect with the process, but with you.
  • Fourth, find out what the intrinsic motivators are. It's tempting to motivate with external rewards. Do X and I'll give you Y. But, that's a short term fix at best. Ask them to imagine succeeding at the particular goal. Then, drill down on their feeling about that success.

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Sincerely, 

Somnath Sikdar

President, Dragon Gym

"Be The Coffee."

 
 
 
 
Somnath Sikdar
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Master, 6th Dan Black Belt
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