We all know that setting and achieving goals is a life skill necessary for success and happiness. But it’s one that even adults REALLY struggle with: Studies say that only about 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions!
How can we teach children to set realistic goals—and actually follow through?
Make it fun!
Research shows that children learn best when they’re playing and enjoying themselves at the same time. Fun experiences increase levels of endorphins, dopamine and oxygen, all of which promote learning.
Here are 7 activities that can make goal setting more fun and effective.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our FREE Affirmation Bracelets. It’s important for children to be surrounded by loving and encouraging messages. These affirmation bracelets will boost your child’s confidence and help them feel like they can do anything.
1. Make a Bucket List
Typically, a bucket list is a list of accomplishments, experiences, or achievements that someone wants to have during their lifetime.
To teach your kids goal-setting—and have fun in the process—you can create a YEARLY bucket list.
Do you have teens? Encourage them to use resources such as Trello and Evernote to help create the family bucket list or to make personal ones for themselves. This gives them a chance to use their technical knowledge and creativity in a meaningful way. They can share their lists with the family and help track everything online. This is a great way to include older kids in a family project and to build connections.
It’s even more fun if the whole family gets involved.
Here's what to do:
- Gather your family together, grab a piece of chart paper and some markers and start brainstorming.
- As a family, discuss what you would like to do, experience and achieve over the next 12 months.
- Once you're done brainstorming, put this list up somewhere where everyone can see it often (for example, by the kitchen table).
Throughout the year, your family will have tons of fun accomplishing items on the list and checking them off.
As the year progresses and you start to notice several items remaining, you can talk about if you still want to accomplish each of these goals or if your family’s goals have changed. If you still want to accomplish them, how can you go about doing so? What steps will you need to follow?
Research shows that in addition to learning through play, children also learn effectively through experience. Keeping track of and planning toward goals will be a valuable learning experience for your child and it’s a fun way for your family to bond as well!
At the end of the year, you can look back over all of the things your family has accomplished. You may even make creating an annual bucket list into a new family tradition!
2. Draw a Wheel of Fortune
The idea for the “wheel of fortune” was created by Dennis Waitley, author and authority on personal development.
Here’s what to do:
- Help your child draw a wheel divided into SEGMENTS. In each segment, your child will write important categories in her life: Family, Friends, School, Tennis, etc.
- Your child will then choose one category that she would like to focus on first. For this category, she will write out each goal she would like to accomplish in a set period of time (this year, for example). For instance, if the category is “Tennis,” your child might write that she would like to practice at least three times a week, improve her forehand, and learn to serve.
- Next, talk to your child about the steps she will take to achieve these goals and what obstacles she may encounter along the way. If she does encounter these obstacles, what will she do to overcome them?
- Let your child color and decorate the wheel however she would like, then hang it somewhere prominent.
As your child reaches her goals in one segment of the wheel, do something to CELEBRATE, then repeat the process above for each additional segment.
Over time, your child will improve in many aspects of her life, all while learning to set and reach goals.
Don't forget to download our FREE Affirmation Bracelets. The affirmation bracelets are great for boosting a child's confidence!
3. Create a Vision Board
A vision board is a great way to help your child visualize her goals. Your child will also have fun with this meaningful arts and crafts project.
Here’s what to do:
- Take out some old magazines and ask your child to cut out pictures that represent her hopes and dreams. If your child has something specific she wants to include that she can’t find, you can print pictures from the Internet.
- Your child will then paste these pictures onto a piece of poster board. She can also decorate with colors, glitter, feathers, etc.
- When it’s finished, hang the vision board somewhere in your child’s bedroom, where she will frequently be reminded of her aspirations.
Making the vision board helps your child think through her goals and it also serves as a powerful visual reminder of everything she would like to achieve.
Revisit the idea of the vision board often. Ask your child what different pictures represent and how she plans to achieve her various dreams.
If the goal is a big one, help her break it into simple pieces. What are some small steps she can take now to achieve her long-term goals in the future?
Your child will learn to set goals, think critically, and plan ahead. She’ll also develop the understanding that what she does now and throughout her life does matter and can positively impact her future.
4. Play 3 Stars and a Wish
3 Stars and a Wish is a fun way to get kids thinking about their goals while also providing some positive affirmation.
Here’s what to do:
- First, your child comes up with 3 “Stars,” or things she already does well. This can be anything from running fast to solving math problems to comforting her friends when they’re feeling sad.
- Talk to your child about HOW she became so good at these “Stars.” Did she have to practice? How long did it take to learn? Or did she magically acquire these skills overnight?
- Next, have your child come up with a “Wish.” The “Wish” is something that your child needs or wants to work on (a goal).
- Ask your child WHAT she can do to help make her wish come true. Explain to her that this isn’t chance; it’s choice. She can choose to take steps that will lead to the fulfillment of her wish.
Make sure that you or your child write everything down. If your child is old enough, it’s a good idea to have her write about her progress toward her wish on occasion.
Psychology professor Gail Matthews found that writing down your goals on a regular basis makes you 42% more likely to achieve them.
Having your child share her hopes and dreams with you makes her more likely to achieve them too. Dr. Matthews found that people are even more likely to achieve their goals if they share them with a friend (or parent) who believes they will succeed.
The Big Life Journal is a great place to record your child's dreams, ask big questions and have meaningful conversations. You can also explore how others turned their dreams into reality. Topics include: Be Persistent, Effort Is Key and Make a Difference in the World.
5. Ask Fun Questions
Asking your child questions about what she would like to accomplish is a standard component of the goal-setting process.
However, you can get creative and make the process more enjoyable with fun questions like:
- What would you do if you won the lottery?
- What is your biggest dream?
- If you had a superpower, how would you use it?
- If you found a genie and could ask for three wishes, what would you wish for?
Of course, some of these questions may prompt unrealistic answers from your child, but you can help her tweak them to be more achievable.
Then discuss that she may not win the lottery or find a magic genie, but she can take her fate into her own hands by making a plan to achieve her hopes, goals and dreams.
6. Interest Maps
Older kids can learn a lot about themselves by paying attention to their interests. Do they like art or science or writing or sports? Write down all their favorite interests. Next, see if they can find patterns in the things they enjoy doing. Do they enjoy working with people? Animals? By themselves? Check out our example of an interest map to get some ideas. Once they see their interests mapped out, they can create goals.
7. Stair-step goals (or goal ladders)
Using a stair-step visual for goal-setting, teens can break down their goals into doable steps. Follow this simple method:
- Write down your DREAM at the top of the staircase.
- Write down your FIRST GOAL at the very bottom of the staircase and the first action towards that goal.
- Create your second goal and the first action towards it.
- Create your third goal and the first actions.
- Continue “climbing” the stairs. Add dates, drawings, anything that helps motivate you!
For example, your daughter chose “basketball” as an interest. She can now create stair-step goals based on her interests such as:
- Practice every day for 30 minutes
- Run 1 mile 5 days a week
- Score 50 points this season
- Make 25 rebounds
- Encourage my teammates
Fun goal-setting activities create interest
It’s common for kids to be uninterested in setting goals and even more uninterested in pursuing them to fruition. You can try to change that by making the process more fun with the following activities:
- Make a family bucket list, checking off items as you go.
- Help your child draw and decorate her own “Wheel of Fortune.”
- Let your child create a vision board using magazine pictures and hang it in her bedroom.
- Ask your child to come up with “3 Stars and a Wish.”
- Pose fun questions to your child to help determine her hopes, dreams and goals.
If you can get your child interested in setting and achieving goals, you’ll raise a determined and successful individual!
Looking for additional resources? Be sure to check out our Big Life Journal for Teens & Preteens (Ages 11+). Our science-based journal helps tweens and teens develop a resilient, growth mindset so they can grow into confident, happy adults.