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How to help your children set goals in 2001

December 28, 2000

How to help your children set goals in 2001

Teaching your Child | By Lisa Tedrick Prejean


A couple of months ago, my 5-year-old was having trouble with bed-wetting.

It was embarrassing for him. He hid his wet clothes and didn't want to talk about it.

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At his checkup, our pediatrician, Dr. M. Douglas Becker, recommended that we chart his progress on a calendar. Every time he woke up dry, he earned a star for that day.

My son really looked forward to putting those stickers on the calendar.

Looking back, there were a lot of days in October that didn't have stars. November had a few empty spaces, but December only has one or two.

Charting his progress allowed him to have a sense of accomplishment. He had a goal, and we helped him keep track of it.

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Would he have made such progress without the stickers? That's hard to know.

But would we have known how well he is doing if we wouldn't have kept track of it?

Probably not.

There is an intrinsic value in helping your child set and achieve goals, says Martin Ford, an educational and developmental psychologist who is acting dean of the graduate school of education at George Mason University.

Goal-setting teaches children to delay gratification, which is key to becoming a mature adult.

Here's how Ford explains it: A goal is a thought about some desired future. In order to reach that goal, certain behaviors have to be acted upon. A child needs to learn to envision that future rather than reacting to his environment or circumstances.

It helps to write down the goal, says Mark Riesenberg, author of "How to Stop Whining and Start Winning: A Guide to Goal Setting and Time Management."

"My experience is that everyone believes goals are important, but few people write them down and take action on them," says Riesenberg, whose firm, Human Resources Unlimited, specializes in time management and goal-setting. "New Year's resolutions have become a joke. By Thursday, you've broken them all."

In order to be effective, goals need a proper timeframe, and need to be concrete and explicit, Ford says.

Here are some tips from Ford and Riesenberg for parents who want to help their children set goals in 2001:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Don't expect more than your child is capable of accomplishing. Ford says a preschooler can only think about the immediate future - a few minutes, or possibly hours, from now. An elementary school student can think about what's going to happen over the next few days. In middle school, a child can start thinking about what's going to happen in the next several weeks.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Parents can help a child by asking him questions that will help him think in various ways. If the goal is to have your preschooler select his clothes and dress himself, let him decide what to wear, even if it doesn't match.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Encourage your child to make decisions. When you go out to dinner, help him read the menu and give him choices to select from. Afterward, talk about his choice. Was it a good one?

"If you don't give your child an opportunity to think, you're not going to teach him to think," Ford says. But remember, "getting people to think doesn't mean that they will think the way you want them to."

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Ask your child to consider potential consequences of his behavior. Will he be rejected by his peers if he does this?

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Link responsibilities with privileges. Tell your child he can go out and play after he picks up his toys. Then ask him what would happen if he walked into a room with toys all over the floor. Would he trip? Would some of the toys get broken?

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Expose your child to a variety of experiences. He won't know what goals to set if he doesn't know what the possibilities are.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Encourage a preteen or teenager to write down three to five goals for the year. Tell him to approach this list as a child would a Christmas list. These goals could be related to sports, hobbies, school, family or personal improvement. Tell your child he doesn't have to share his goals with you unless he wants to. Offer your assistance in helping him meet those goals. At the end of the year, he may not have achieved all of them, but he may be surprised at the progress he made.

"If you don't measure it, you won't know how you're doing," Riesenberg says. "Too often we're too hard on ourselves and don't see the progress we're making."

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