5 Reasons Your Kids Need Goals and Tips for Setting Them

Wandering aimlessly might get you to your destination eventually, but it's a lot easier and less frustrating when you have a plan! Here are five reasons your kids need goals, and five simple tips to help them use goal setting to achieve their dreams.

Cheryl Butler
5-minute read
Episode #610
The Quick And Dirty

January marks a fresh start for new beginnings—the perfect time to teach your child why knowing how to set big and small goals is a critical skill that will help them for their entire life. Here are five smart reasons your kids need goals:

  1. Goals give your life meaning and direction
  2. Goals foster motivation
  3. Goals create focus
  4. Goals keep you accountable
  5. Goals promote personal growth

Call me crazy, but I have always loved January. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season are behind us and a crisp, quiet month is ours for the taking.

I also happen to be a list addict! If I can write it down, I have a far better chance of achieving it. I've been keeping lists and journals since I was a young girl. I even save my journals so I can review and revel in the progress I've made. At the beginning of the year, I start a new journal and list my desired goals. 

A 2011 analysis of goal setting research in the International Journal of Management, Business, and Administration said:

Research supports predictions that the most effective performance seems to result when goals are specific and challenging, when they are used to evaluate performance and linked to feedback on results, and [when they] create commitment and acceptance.

Of course, this research was aimed at goal-setting for adults in the workplace. But parents can also use these findings to help their children set goals that will not only encourage them to stay motivated but also to begin building a vital skill they'll use throughout their lives. Here are five reasons that will inspire you to cheer your child on to mastering goal setting.

Goals give life meaning and direction

Have you ever driven to the grocery store or office and arrived without remembering much at all about how you got there? I sure have. I'll park the car and realize I was mindlessly going through the motions. Might there have been a more efficient route with fewer traffic headaches? Who knows? I was operating on auto-pilot.

That's what it's like to navigate through life without any goals. You're functioning, but without a real purpose. When we teach our kids about goal setting, we help them break out of auto-pilot mode and become proactive about finding true meaning and direction in their life.

Meaningful goals should make your heart race with excitement. Offer to brainstorm with your child about all the things she enjoys doing. Let her pick out a whimsical journal to jot down everything she's passionate about. Make this a fun process! It doesn't have to be done in one sitting. Encourage her to spend time with it. After all, it's her life! These creative pages can be the starting point for some inspired goals that are fueled with purpose. 

Goals foster motivation

One of the best reasons to have written goals is that they can be a continuous source of motivation. They are a tangible reminder of why you're striving to bring them to fruition. This is especially helpful if you're struggling with a certain area in your life. Goals can help you stay the course when you're tempted to drift away and help you stay connected with your desires and passions.

A creative way to stay motivated and on task with your goals is to create a vision board full of visuals to foster dreams and inspiration. It can be as simple or elaborate as you want. Try picking up a piece of poster board and encouraging your child to decorate it with photos, inspiring quotes, and anything that brings visual life to his goals and desires. You could also try creating an online vision board using a free design tool like Canva. Help your child make his own vision board to reflect his goals and encourage him to leave it in a place he'll see it daily. My daughter uses hers as her screensaver on her computer and her phone.

Goals create focus

Another huge benefit of having goals is that they help you stay focused and on task. Our kids are faced with countless distractions, not the least of which is all the social media platforms they engage with daily. Without written goals, distractions can cause you to stray off the path of what's important to you. There's no real incentive to achieve what's important if you don't have a plan to make it happen. 

Offer a variety of cool, inspiring goal-setting worksheets to your child so she can get clarity and track as many details about her goals as possible. Pinterest offers dozens of free templates to choose from. If your child finds one that she loves, print off a dozen copies and create a personalized goal-setting binder. (Don't forget yourself—you might find an awesome template for your own goals!)

Goals keep you accountable

My favorite reason for having written goals is accountability. When you review your goals on a regular basis, it's like keeping a promise to yourself. It's a concrete way to see if you're making progress and on track to succeed.

The expression "Out of sight; out of mind" is a great reminder of why we need to keep our goals to be in front of us so we don't get complacent. Even if some of our goals take longer than we originally anticipated to achieve, having a written plan helps us better manage our time and effort as well as course-correct any setbacks. 

Encourage the SMART method of goal setting by helping your child set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timebound. (Check out my episode How to Create Healthy Habits That Strengthen Your Family for more info on what a SMART goal is and how to set one.) For a great way to create SMART goals, watch this YouTube video. And here's a free downloadable SMART goal-setting worksheet.

Goals help you to grow

Finally, goals are the catalyst for growth. They are the foundation for achieving your highest potential. Without them, you become stagnant and limited. Goals are the measuring stick that helps us shoot for the moon and the stars, ultimately allowing us to venture out of our comfort zone and discover new talents and strengths.

Celebrate progress, not just the end result. A crucial step in realizing our goals is that many of them take time, and the ride to reaching them is just as important as the final goal. Remind your child that some goals may take weeks or months to attain and that his dedication and perseverance is responsible for the success in the end. Bake his favorite cookies or send him an encouraging text to acknowledge his hard work in progress. Help to keep the momentum going so he can relish the journey and continue to grow.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.