Guiding youth to lead healthy and safe lives.

Kids first on Fox: Ready, set, goal!

Helping your kids achieve their dreams


New Year’s represents a new beginning and a time for many adults to set new goals. It is also an opportune time for children to learn how to set and achieve goals by applying successful goal-setting techniques. Today we will discuss how to empower your kids in 2017 to get ready, set, goal!

There is a saying that “success begets success,” which is important to understand for goal setting. We can all relate to setting lofty New Year’s resolutions that quickly fizzled out. Setting the bar too high can actually be counterproductive.

Small wins can propel kids to bigger success so help your children focus on setting a few small achievable goals rather than several big lofty goals.

The secret to success is in understanding the science of our brains in that the more times we succeed at something, the longer our brain stores the information that allowed us to do well in the first place. Then the brain wants us to repeat the successful act. Each time we succeed, our brain releases a chemical called dopamine. When dopamine flows into the part of the brain that controls pleasure, learning and motivation (the reward pathway), we not only feel greater concentration but are inspired to re-do the activity.

Whereas, each time we fail, the brain is drained of dopamine making it hard to concentrate and difficult to learn from what went wrong. Failure can also be accompanied by anxiety, depression and hopelessness which prevents us from reaching goals. In essence, reaching a goal successfully leads to more success!

Ask your kids to set one personal goal for home and one academic goal to focus on for the next three months, between now and spring break. Emphasize that the goal should be something they personally want to achieve, not a goal solely to please someone else (e.g. a parent or teacher). It also needs to be realistic, specific and achievable within 3 months. Have your child write out or draw a picture of what achieving the goal will look like. Then post their goal statement or picture in a place where they will see it daily. Giving your child’s brain a visual reminder of the goal helps steer them towards it.

8 steps to teach your child how to set and achieve goals:

  1. Ask your child to identify a goal.
  2. Make it specific and state it positively.
  3. Make it ambitious but realistic.
  4. Write it down.
  5. Break it down into action steps.
  6. Create a visual written plan.
  7. Do not fret over failure – be patient.
  8. Reward your child and be supportive.
  1. Ask your child to identify a goal. Start by asking your child to write down the ultimate thing your child wants to see happen. For example, “I want to make honor roll,” or “I want to make the cross-country team,” or “I want a singing part in the school musical,” are all examples of the final vision or major goal your child wants to see happen.
  2. Make it specific and state it positively. It is easier to master a specific goal than a vague Make it specific by defining what you want to achieve (such as an A in math to make honor roll; running _x_ miles daily to make the cross-country team; singing 45 minutes a day and learning two songs from the musical). Focus on the positive aspects of the goal, while stating what you are moving towards and not away from (e.g. goal is to earn an A versus to not get a C).
  3. Make it ambitious but realistic. People often abandon goals because their expectations are unreasonable. Any improvement is progress so if your child currently gets a C grade in a class, then setting a goal of one grade higher (or half a grade higher) would be more realistic than two grades higher. Once a B is achieved, then the new goal could be adjusted to be an A grade. Set an ambitious but realistic goal. It is important to not set your child up for failure by allowing them to select an unachievable goal for the three-month timeframe stated. Goals need to be short-term successes that lead up to the larger vision.
  4. Write it down. Your child should write down the goal. Research shows that writing down a goal is part of the mental process of committing to it. Writing a goal down every day will help kids keep focused on it. Your child may prefer to draw a visual picture of the goal such as a kid holding a report card with an A or B in math or a kid singing on stage in a musical.
  5. Break it down into action steps. Break a goal into small and specific daily tasks. For example, to increase by one letter grade in math by mid-term, what specifically needs to happen each day? Create a plan for how much time every day will be spent on homework for the class; working with a tutor; studying with flash cards; or taking online practice tests. Every goal needs to be broken into small daily tasks or steps. Each day’s tasks do not need to be identical as a Monday might be a good day for flash cards and Sunday for practice tests.
  6. Create a visual written plan. Put the steps on a calendar or planner to track progress. Make it fun by putting stickers or stars next to a daily action step after it is offers a valuable online planning tool for teens to map out goals and to achieve them. Click on this link to access the online goal setting tool for teens.
  7. Do not fret over failure – be patient. Realize that not every day will be perfect, nor should it be. If your child misses a day, just start back up again the next day. It is not failure to occasionally miss a step. A re-start is progress towards success. Do not make your child feel like a failure if they get off track as that will cause them to focus on failure rather than success. Emphasize any progress made towards the goal and that following the plan will likely get them to their goal. It takes time for new habits to form, typically at least three months, so do not expect success overnight.
  8. Reward your child and be supportive. Achieving frequent, smaller goals gives kids the confidence, courage, and motivation to keep progressing towards more goals. As a supporter you should often acknowledge progress. Do not celebrate progress as much as you will when the final goal is achieved, but do acknowledge small successes along the way (e.g. a good grade on a math test; running x miles; learning a song).

Parent resources are available on the website: or by calling 317-667-0340


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