Helping Your Tween Set Positive Goals
Tweens become more independent and self-motivated through the process of setting goals for themselves. Learn the six steps to supporting and refining their goal setting.
Tweens (kids who are 8 to 12 years of age) have many goals imposed upon them, like being kind, listening attentively and working hard. While these are valuable, learning to set goals for themselves enables tweens to develop executive functioning skills, including planning, organizing and strategic reasoning, that are key to becoming self-directed and independent.
1. Help Your Tween Think Broadly
To encourage a full view of their goals, the first step to positive goal-setting is to encourage your tween to brainstorm the various aspects of their lives, such as academics, athletics, friendships, family relationships, pet care, and hobbies. You can support your child’s thought process by encouraging them to step through a typical day and jot down what they do and with whom they interact. Then they can create categories from those actions, with your support.
Finally, have them narrow the list down to the three areas that are most important to them right now. They’ll work to set just one goal in each area. Just keep in mind that we don’t want the goal-setting process to become so overwhelming that they don’t ever want to embark on it again!
2. Let Your Tween Create Their Own Goals
Although you are supporting their brainstorming process, it’s important to let your tween’s goals be self-generated. What’s important to them might be very different than what’s important to you. Although your kiddo might want to save enough money to buy a new squishy for their collection when you were hoping for a goal about reading more fluently, that’s okay! The point of the goal-setting exercise at this age is the process of setting and working toward goals, regardless of the goals themselves (as long as they are prosocial goals, of course).
Rest assured that goal content will naturally shift as they become adolescents and young adults.
3. Word The Goals Positively
We all tend to word goals negatively, such as “Stop yelling at my family members so much.” Our minds respond much better to goals that tell us what to do rather than what to refrain from doing. For instance, “Speak more gently and kindly to my family members” is better.
4. Work Together to Refine the Goals
Now that your tween has a set of draft goals, it’s time to work with them to revise the goals to be optimally attainable:
- Is each goal specific and measurable? If your tween wants to “get better at baseball,” this vague goal doesn’t give your child much of a target to aim toward. Instead your child might revise the goal to be, “have at least two base hits each game.”
- Is each goal realistic? The specifics of each goal need to be reasonable for your tween’s current abilities. For this age group, it should also be a goal that can reached without any milestones in between.
Younger tweens tend to shoot for the stars, like my 8-year-old who recently told me that she’s gotten so good at swimming that she thinks she’ll be in the Olympics soon – even though she hasn’t yet passed the Y’s swim test! The challenge is to help your young tween reign in their aspirations without killing their enthusiasm. To my daughter I might say, “It’s great that you have big goals for your swimming. The people in the Olympics practiced and set smaller goals along the way. What’s a goal that’s more within your reach, and that will get you one step closer to being a competitive swimmer?”
On the other hand, older tweens are often beginning to adopt adolescent cynicism and developing a fear of failure, causing them to make their goals too attainable. Your role is to stretch them by asking questions that guide them to challenge themselves, such as, “What would be the next step after you reach this goal? What if you aimed for that right off the bat?”
- Is there a timeline for each goal? Without a goal date, there’s little motivation to work toward it. As in the previous point, you’ll likely need to guide your child toward a realistic deadline based on their age and what else they have on their plates.
5. Push For a “Why” Behind Each Goal
Naming why a goal matters to us helps us feel significantly more motivated to work toward that goal. While this may be the most difficult part of the goal-setting process with kids (“because” is their go-to answer), it’s also arguably the most important. We’re helping our tweens identify their values and translate those values into action, a skill that will motivate them throughout their lives.
You can help them identify why they want to, say, make more friends or raise $100 for the pet shelter by sharing specific examples from your life. For instance, “I have the goal of running a half marathon this year because it’s important to me to be physically healthy so that I can make the most of each day.”
6. Encourage Them to Check-in, Persevere and Reward Themselves
Last but not certainly not least, be sure to make the goals chart an active document. Check in with your tween every week or two. Encourage them to make amendments to the goals if they haven’t been able to make progress for a good reason (i.e., not due to lack of effort) and to strategize ways to get closer to each goal. If motivation is flagging, remind them that they set these goals themselves and that they wanted each for an important reason.
Perhaps most importantly, encourage your tween to celebrate when they reach each goal in a manner that is meaningful to them, appropriate to the size of the goal, and acceptable to your family values. A tangible pat on the back motivates all of us – especially our tweens who are just learning the goal-setting process.