Goal Setting for Kids: Empowering Future Achievers to Reach Limitless Goals

UPDATED: January 3, 2024
PUBLISHED: January 4, 2024
Mother and daughter sitting together learning how to make goal setting for kids

Adults achieve greater success by learning how to set goals. In fact, a study conducted by psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews found that people who simply wrote down their goals “accomplished significantly more” than those who did not. And setting and writing down goals is becoming more commonplace. A recent Gallup survey found that seven in 10 adults are inclined to set specific goals, and nearly 48% of those plan to write them down. But what about goal setting for kids? Here, we will explore the benefits of setting and achieving goals as well as ideas for kid-friendly activities to get you and your child started.

Setting goals boosts kids’ development

Goal setting plays a pivotal role in a child’s development. By setting increasingly challenging goals, kids embark on a personal journey of growth that shapes their individual futures in unique and profound ways.

  1. It can increase personal responsibility and independence. Setting and achieving goals empowers kids to become architects of their own futures. It teaches them to take charge of (and responsibility for) their actions while building a sense of autonomy and fostering a proactive approach toward life’s challenges.
  2. Setting goals can boost kids’ self-esteem. Kids who learn to set effective goals gain self-esteem as they discover tangible proof of their own abilities. This increased self-assurance plays a vital role in their overall emotional well-being, helping them gain the mental strength needed to succeed.
  3. Kids develop planning skills. Goal setting itself provides value for kids. By learning to break down long-term goals into short-term goals and tasks, children develop strategic planning abilities. They also learn the importance of prioritizing tasks, vital to everything from school to future budget management.
  4. It encourages growth mindset development. Cultivating a growth mindset sets a child on a path of creativity and willingness to accept new challenges. The child learns to view setbacks not as failures but as opportunities for continual improvement. As such, this mindset builds resilience and soft skills essential to leadership.
  5. Kids will develop hard skills. As with adults, children who learn how to set and strive for goals are more apt to succeed in reaching their targets. This may include growth in knowledge-based skills such as mathematics, reading comprehension, sports, music and more.

Kids should start to set their own goals around age 7 

As you decide when to teach goal-setting strategies to your kids, remember that children develop at different ages. Planning and even understanding goals demands abstract thinking skills such as cause and effect. Noted developmental psychologist Jean Piaget called this the “concrete operational stage” beginning at about age 7. At this time, children gain a greater understanding of the logic and abstract thought necessary to set and achieve goals.

How to help kids with setting goals

Helping children set goals is a crucial part of their development. Just remember that goal setting is itself a skill to learn. Your role is not only to assist them in learning the skill but to serve as a caring and encouraging mentor throughout every stage of the process.

1. Understand your child’s interests

Spend time learning more about your child’s passions. Kids are naturally curious, and they may have interests you never knew about. Engage with your child by asking questions to better understand their devotion to the topic and if they are excited to learn more.

2. Teach your child about SMART goals

Introduce them to the concept of SMART goal setting. That is, help them set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Remember, even adults can struggle with concepts such as setting measurable goals, so work with your child throughout the process.

3. Help them break goals into smaller tasks

Large goals can be overwhelming, especially for children. Teach them to break down their goals into smaller, more feasible tasks. Each task should lead to the next, working toward the end goal and providing a roadmap to success.

4. Regularly check in with your child and celebrate their progress

Stay informed of your child’s progress with regular chats to provide reassurance and assistance. Encourage patience and perseverance, and be there to help them find solutions to roadblocks. At the same time, be willing to adjust to new interests if the goal is not a necessary skill such as reading or math. And to help keep your child motivated, celebrate the milestones they reach when working toward their goals.

Try these goal-setting activities for kids

Guided activities will greatly assist family members, teachers or other mentors in helping kids set and reach their goals. Here, we’ve provided some of our favorite activities. Each is simple to learn while providing nearly unlimited variations and opportunities.

1. Vision board

Using a poster board, encourage your child to create a vision board to represent their dreams and goals. They can use magazine cutouts, drawings and printouts to visualize what they plan to achieve. This activity not only inspires creativity but helps your child make their desires more tangible and achievable.

2. Goal ladder

This activity again uses large paper or a poster board. Start at the top by writing or drawing a depiction of the desired goal. Then, draw a ladder reaching from the bottom to the top. Each rung represents a progressive, achievable step that kids can fill in. As they complete each step, they can mark it off to visually track their progress.

3. Planning sheet

Older or more analytical kids may benefit from performing the adult goal-setting strategy of using a worksheet. Like goal ladders, these worksheets help kids formulate their goals while breaking them into smaller, more manageable tasks. Plus, your child will learn how to create timelines for progress using the SMART goal-setting method.

4. Goal-setting journal

Encourage kids to keep a daily journal when setting and working toward goals. By writing down their accomplishments, setbacks, motivation and feelings, kids can better organize their thoughts while reflecting on their journey. A book made for journaling makes the process more fun, so take your child to the store and let them pick out their favorite notebook.

5. Role play

Create role-play scenarios where children can act out achieving their goals. This fun activity helps them visualize success while practicing the steps needed to achieve their goals. More extroverted, performative kids especially benefit from this activity, though introverted or quiet children may enjoy it more than you expect.

Photo by Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com

Bryan Lindenberger

Bryan enjoys the digital space where arts and technology meet. As a writer, he has worked in education, health and wellbeing, and manufacturing. He also assists smaller businesses in web development including accessibility and content development. In his free time, he hikes trails in central Florida.