Teaching goal setting at an early age

by Brittany Gilbert

Growing up, I really wanted to be good at sports. My older brother loved basketball and was really good at it, and I wanted to experience the thrill he got from the game.

In middle school, I decided to play softball. I made the team with no problem and enjoyed getting all the gear that went along with playing. However, when I got on the field, I found it was a lot more work than I anticipated and I wasn’t as good as some of the other players. When it came down to it, I never practiced or tried to get better. I simply showed up at game time and then complained when I wasn’t very good. My brother on the other hand was always practicing and therefore always getting better. He knew his goal and he took steps toward it, whereas I never practiced and never became a softball player.

Goal setting wasn’t something I learned until college. However, I wish it were something I had started in grade school. I want to instill this skill in my kids. Goal setting can provide a focus for children while giving them purpose and meaningful motivation. Setting short- and long-term goals can help children gain a sense of responsibility. 

Lead by example. As adults, we create goals all the time without even realizing it. Include your kids in the goal-setting process. If you plan to start a garden, show your children the steps of accomplishing your goal. Along the way, show them how you can check off each task as you complete it and celebrate the finished product.

Start small. It’s easy to give up when something seems too big. If your student is failing a class and makes a goal to have an A by the end of the school year, that may seem overwhelming. Instead, start with making an A on the next quiz and then create a new goal afterward. It also helps to plan each step of the process so they learn how to create goals. When you hear your child say, “I wish I could,” this is a good place to start when creating a goal.

Make short-term and long-term goals. Develop a system or use ones that are already available like the SMART checklist. When making goals, check to see if they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Be sure to encourage your children and not focus on setbacks but view any disappointment as a way to improve and learn.

Celebrate goals. Our 3-year-old son doesn’t realize that he has daily goals but what he doesn’t know is that the colorful chart he tries to get stickers on every day is full of simple goals. Every time he reaches one of these goals, he gets a sticker. Other ideas include creating a board game or ladder so your child sees progress and is encouraged to continue with their goal.


Brittany Gilbert is a former FACS teacher at Maumelle High School. She and her husband, Levi, have two sons and live in Conway. Brittany can be reached at [email protected].