How to Set SMART Goals for your child in 2019

You may have heard the term “SMART goal” in the past, but how does this apply to familial success? Well, children of all ages need goals to be specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic, and timed. Curriculum such as Incredible Years and Nurturing Parenting walk parents through the most effective and rewarding systems for correctional training.

Specific. Specify exactly what it is that you need your child to do. Set out notes or a board of reminders so the child can see this and be reminded clearly and effectively each day of their goals or expectations. With older children, sitting down and having a conversation about expectations is typically beneficial.

Measurable.  How are your children measuring their goals? Are you held accountable equally as much as they are in their new expectations? Children need praise and tangible rewards to know their adults are noticing the good behavior that is asked of them. Try setting up a reward chart or coin jar to measure their compliance. For example, when your child has taken their shoes upstairs 10 times, they receive a small incentive or extra privilege.

Action Oriented. It’s important that children are encouraged to take action for their new goal and equally given opportunity to be successful. Parents commonly complain about lack of household organization or children being non-compliant with hygienic rules. In those instances, we ask our parents, “How tangible is this plan?”. If a child is being requested to clean up their toys, do they have a toy bin? Is there a designated space for this task? Furthermore, is the parent scheduling time for the children to play and giving them the opportunity to clean up afterwards?                                     

Realistic.  How realistic is your goal for the child? Often times when a child is not meeting an expectation it’s because they are either not willing to or they are not able to. In some cases, it is both. By assessing the child’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZOPD), one can revise an expectation and better support the child’s growth and development. For example, maybe doing the dishes is too advanced for one child, but not drying the dishes with assistance from dad.

Time Limit. Small wins are important. Even as adults, goals that are too daunting can be discouraging. By setting goals that are achievable short term, children have more opportunity to succeed. Additionally, cumulative goals can be set for children who need more support and guidance in one area. If the goal is for a child to clean their room weekly, and it just hasn’t been happening, maybe we should start by focusing on making up the bed, putting away shoes, or folding clothes first.

Just How Important Is Encouragement?

One of The Incredible Years’ most discussed topics is the topic of Praise and Encouragement. While being nice and noticing the positive behavior in children is something that feels good to them, it is also crucial in their growth and development. The Incredible Years tells us this,

“Often parents are unsure about how to and when to praise their children. They recognize that children should be praised for special things, but seldom feel it necessary to praise the simple, everyday things children do, such as sharing toys or brushing their teeth. These behaviors are often taken for granted. In fact, many parents think children are “supposed to know” how to behave without praise or rewards. However, expecting a child to function with praise or encouragement is unrealistic.”

The curriculum continues to tell us that children are more likely to repeat behaviors that get them attention. Think of this as the “Attention Principle”. The great thing about this principle is that it can work in both ways. When a child is misbehaving, a parent should not give attention to this behavior. In result, the behavior is less likely to reoccur. On the flip side, when the child is demonstrating behavior that a parent wishes to see more of, that child should be praised and rewarded. This praise encourages the child to continue behaving this way.

Parents are the child’s first and primary teacher. Though teaching is done in many ways every day, praise is an effective way to motivate a child to reach their goals and your goals. Recognition is important to children because they base many of their decision on feelings and emotions. So, if they don’t feel well, they probably won’t do well. Children of all ages are constantly discovering a desire for autonomy and how to self-regulate. In the meantime, parents must be available to support and encourage these children to reach their goals and keep trying.

Furthermore, a parent must learn to cater their praise the child’s goal. If a child is struggling with temper tantrums, perhaps the parent should complement the child when they notice they are calm. This demands a call to action from the parents- to catch children being good. If that same child is winding down for dinner and sitting politely at the table, perhaps the parent should cater a praise like this, “Thank you so much for being calm at the dinner table. I like spending time with you this way” rather than, “It’s about time you stopped throwing your tantrum!” Below are some more tips on how to cater praise to a specific behavior.

• “You do a good job of ….”
• “You have improved in…”
• “I like it when you….”
• “Wow what a wonderful job you’ve done of….”
• “Look how well you did in ….”
• “That’s very nice (or good) for…”
• “I’m so happy you…”