IDENTIFYING STRATEGIES TO HELP OUR CHILDREN SET REALISTIC AND ACHIEVABLE GOALS FOR THEMSELVES
By Dr. Nate Balfanz
Dr. Nate Balfanz is the Senior Clinical Psychologist at American Medical Center (AMC), a comprehensive mental and medical health service clinic for expat children, adolescents, adults, and families living in Shanghai. For more information on clinic services, contact Dr. Nate at: Nate.Balfanz@amc-shanghai.cn.
HOW CAN WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN TO DEVELOP EFFECTIVE GOAL-SETTING STRATEGIES?
With the winter holiday season drawing near, I try to make it a point to encourage my families to use the upcoming break exactly as it is intended--to relax, to enjoy the company of family and friends, and ultimately to recharge our batteries before diving headfirst into the new year.
Before you know it though, the break will come to an end and life will inevitably require of us to shift our focus to preparing our children (and ourselves!) for the second half of the academic calendar year. For those kids who had a difficult start academically or otherwise, I will suggest to both the child and the parents to consider the holiday break as a “hard reset,” with hopes of inspiring a renewed sense of encouragement and vigor for the remainder of the school year. In our role as parents, we can use this as an opportunity to help our children create goals that will reinforce a “can do it” attitude and a belief in their abilities. Let’s take a moment here to explore a pragmatic method of helping our children set challenging but achievable goals for themselves, both in and outside of the classroom.
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
In the mid-1960’s, American industrial/organizational psychologist Dr. Edwin Locke conducted research examining the relationship between motivation and human behavior to develop a concept he would identify as “Goal Setting Theory.” The theory demonstrated wide-range applicability across multiple settings, and would later provide the basis for a useful mnemonic created by business performance consultant George T. Doran known as the “S.M.A.R.T.” method of goal setting. In its original form, Doran proposed that goals which were Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related helped to provide the goal setter with a more clear roadmap for how to achieve his/her objectives. The acronym itself has gone through multiple iterations since its original design, which are often dictated by the setting and population to which they are applied. Research and real world application has demonstrated how the S.M.A.R.T. method can also be useful in guiding our children through their various academic and extracurricular pursuits by providing them with a realistic and objective measure of achievement by which to collaboratively work towards.
USING THE S.M.A.R.T. METHOD WITH OUR CHILDREN
While goals will vary with age and circumstance, listed below are basic examples of how to turn a “good” goal into a “better” goal by applying the S.M.A.R.T. method of goal setting:
Specific— Be clear and concise about what is trying to be achieved.
Good: “Get good grades.”
Better: “Get all A’s and B’s this quarter.”
Measurable— Ensure that the goal can be easily tracked and monitored.
Good: “Participate in more extracurricular activities.”
Better: “Join one new club and participate in one new sport this Spring semester.”
Achievable— Consider if achieving the goal is realistic.
Good: “Learn to speak Mandarin fluently my first year in China.”
Better: “Meet with a Mandarin tutor three times a week for the next three months.”
Relevant— Make the goal meaningful and contextually significant.
Good: “Decide what I want to do for my career.”
Better: “Pick a college major that is consistent with my academic strengths and interests.”
Time-based— Assign a specific time frame by which to achieve the goal.
Good: “Submit all of my college applications.”
Better: “Submit each of my college applications one week before their due date.”