Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Helping Your Children Achieve Their Goals

Reaching our goals gives us a great feeling of accomplishment, builds our self confidence, and drives us towards more progress and growth. Learning to set and achieve goals can and should begin very young. How young? Easily by three years of age. What kind of goal could a three-year-old possibly have? Well, if you've ever raised a child, you might understand that any of these could be possibilities:

1. Stay in my bed all night.
2. Keep my panties dry all day.
3. Wipe myself when I go potty.
4. Eat all my vegetables at meal time.
5. Pick up my toys every day.

I had a two-year-old say to me the other day with great excitement, "Ms. Colleen, I sleeped ALL NIGHT!" She was so proud of her accomplishment. More so, I think, than she was about the sparkly sticker mom and dad gave her in the morning.
For a five-year old, the goal may be:

1. Tie my own shoes.
2. Read a book aloud each night.
3. Make my bed every day before breakfast.
4. Use good manners at the dinner table.
5. Put away my clean laundry without being asked.
Professionals say it takes approximately 21 days to develop a new habit (seven days to break one). So, we can't expect a child to conquer any of these overnight. It's a process. The best thing we can do is to encourage them, give them incentive, and help them (and ourselves) visualize their progress. A few great ways to do that will be explained here.

First of all, in order to succeed, it's important to know what motivates your child. (Like I said in yesterday's post, it's amazing what a kid will do for a sticker.) Typically, younger children are motivated by toys, treats, and television time (that is, if television viewing is limited in the home...like it should be). Teenagers tend to be motivated by freedom, friends, fun, and food (i.e. driving privileges and money). For my young son, Daniel, the best reward was the latest, most commercially-advertised, action figure on the market. During his early childhood, this varied through the years from Ninja Turtles to Power Rangers to Buzz Lightyear & Woody. For example's sake, let's say he's trying to earn a Power Ranger action figure by making his bed every morning. Here are a few systems that usually worked in our home:

The Pie Chart (recommended for ages 3 and up): Every day, after Daniel makes his bed, he gets to color in one section of the pie. That's an immediate reward for accomplishing a short-term goal. He also can see his progress towards the big reward. What's the long-term goal? Establishing a new habit--making his bed every morning. He knows when the pie is filled, he gets his new Power Ranger toy. I know when the pie is filled, he has established a good habit of making his bed every day. (For a three-year-old, I would start with only eight slices of pie or provide some intermediate rewards. Otherwise, they may lose interest.)

Behavior Bucks (recommended for ages four and up): Every day, after Daniel makes his bed, he earns a "behavior buck" (fake money from the store or from our Monopoly game). The "behavior buck" is an immediate reward for accomplishing a short-term goal. Daniel knows once he has earned 20 behavior bucks, he gets a new Power Ranger action figure. I know when he has earned 20 behavior bucks, he has also established a wonderful habit of making his bed every day. Additional benefit here is reinforcing how to count to 20.
Spell it Out (recommended for ages 5 and up): Every day, after Daniel makes his bed, he gets a huge colorful letter prominently displayed for all to see. Eventually, the letters will spell "POWER RANGER ACTION TOY". Each letter is an immediate reward for accomplishing a short-term goal. (Plus, most people who see the big letters ask about them and make positive comments. That gives Daniel even more incentive. ) Daniel knows when the words are complete, he gets his new toy. I know when the words are complete, he has established a good habit of making his bed every day. Additional benefits here are learning to recognize letters, sounds, and words.
If you've ever taken a beginning psychology class, you know that once the habit is established, the reward can gradually be removed. It's the ole' Pavlov's theory with the dogs. Eventually, they would salivate just hearing the bell ring. Hopefully, once the rewards are removed completely, Daniel will continue to feel good about himself every morning as he makes his bed independently. That's the goal anyway. However, I will say that every few years, a new reward system may need to be established.

Again, my emphasis here is the early years. I feel so strongly that much of our children's personality, moral character, and mental capacity is developed between birth and age eight. Although it is no one's job but mine (and my husband's) to teach, inspire and motivate my children, I appreciate the outside positive influences from church, school, and community. They say "It takes a whole village to raise a child." Thankfully, we belong to a wonderful church that provides goal-oriented programs for our children from age eight until eighteen. Without support from home, though, these programs don't avail much.

I hope this post is helpful to someone out there. The important things are that you try to emphasize "positive reinforcement", remain optimistic, and don't give up. Of course, I'm sharing ideas that worked for us; there were plenty that didn't. And then there were those that worked sometimes and didn't at others. Any experienced parent will tell you what works for one child doesn't necessarily work for another. Parenting requires (among other things) some trial and error. Isn't it wonderful that God trusts imperfect beings like you and me to raise His precious children?


  1. Sister Drake! Your blog is AWESOME!!! Totally following :)

  2. wow, you have such a beautiful blog ! :)

  3. Thanks so much! Thanks for stopping in...and for leaving a nice comment. :)