Goal Setting for Kids: Board Certified Pediatrician Shares Top Tips

We all want what’s best for our kids—to do well in school, make lots of friends and go on to do awesome things as they grow up. That’s why, at Goldfish, we don’t just teach kids how to swim. We show them how to jump into life with confidence!

With each stroke, kids overcome their fears and believe in themselves more and more, until they feel like they’re capable of accomplishing anything—whether that’s landing the lead role in the school play, taking first place at the science fair or becoming a professional athlete like our swim buddy Ryan Murphy. After all, life is one big pool of possibilities. We’re simply here to give kids the courage to dream BIG and jump in!

As parents, we know there’s no greater feeling than the pride that comes with witnessing your child accomplish new skills. So today, we invited our friend Dr. Molly O’Shea, the official pediatrician of Goldfish Swim School, to talk about goal setting for kids. Read on to learn 10 ways you can encourage your kids to dream big and go after their goals while helping them develop a growth mindset that will allow them to make waves in life!

WHY GOAL SETTING IS IMPORTANT FOR KIDS

Much like anything else, setting goals is a skill that’s learned with practice over time, until it becomes a habit that’s instinctually engrained. Teaching kids how to set goals early on equips them with the skills they need to achieve Extraordinary Results throughout their life. Goal setting can also be a major motivator and help build confidence and self-esteem in kids as they realize what they’re capable of accomplishing.

HERE ARE 10 WAYS TO HELP YOUR KIDS SET & ACHIEVE GOALS

#1 Make Goal Setting Fun For Kids

Goal setting might not sound like the most exciting activity to kids, but with a little creativity, it can be!

Just like Goldfish Swim School uses the power of play-based learning to make mastering swim skills fun for kids, you can use the same approach when it comes to helping your kids set goals.

Instead of treating goal setting like another task on the to-do list, turn it into a game! Encourage your kids to use their imagination and dream BIG (keep reading to learn about Goldfish Swim School’s Dream BIG, Little Fish giveaway)! Cut out pictures from magazines and create a vision board or dream cloud filled with pictures of things they want to do, or have them answer the following questions as part of a fun family interview:

  • What’s something you really enjoy doing?
  • What’s your special superpower?
  • How can you use your superpower to make the world a brighter place?
  • What’s something you want to get better at?
  • What’s something new you want to learn how to do?
  • Why is learning how to (fill in the blank) important to you?

Grab Our Goal Setting Worksheet for Kids

#2 Let Your Kids Choose a Goal They Want to Accomplish

Sometimes what we picture for our child and what they picture for themselves is different. As a parent, we may think our child would make an awesome lawyer since they have an analytical mind and are extremely bright. Our child, however, may have expressed a desire to become a YouTuber or video gamer. Don’t panic! Support your child’s passions and encourage them to explore activities they enjoy so they can find their gifts and nurture them. Through self-discovery, they will grow into the person they’re meant to become. The important thing is they know they have your support.

As a mom and a pediatrician, I always bring enthusiasm to the table when kids are talking about their dreams. The world will show them whether or not their dreams can become reality, so I would rather always be on their side, asking questions to learn more about their dream and share their excitement.

In short, make sure the goal is your child’s and not yours. It’s tempting as a parent to coach or lead your child to a goal YOU think would be good for them. Avoid that trap! Let your child set their own goal and watch them grow! When kids are given the ability to choose which goal they want to focus on, they’re more motivated to follow through and put in the effort to succeed.

#3 Encourage Kids to Dream BIG & Brainstorm Ideas for Goals

Choosing a goal can be hard. Rather than focusing on selecting a “goal”, get your child thinking about what they already enjoy doing. Then, begin thinking about how they may want to improve a current skill set or expand upon existing interests. For example, avid gamers who dream of becoming video game developer might enjoy learning how to code.

You could also have your child create a list of places they want to go, things they want to do or healthy habits they want to build. Whether they want to learn a new language, learn how to swim, volunteer at a local animal shelter or become a doctor, have them write it down! With a little planning, they can begin taking small steps toward achieving whatever their dream is.

#4 Narrow Down the List of Potential Goals

Once your child has a long list of exciting options to choose from, help them narrow down the options and pick which goal they really want to focus on. Setting too many goals at once can be overwhelming (and lead to discouragement), so it’s best to start with one.

One way to help your child figure out which goal they want to tackle first is to ask them why each particular option is important to them. Having a clear understanding of WHY they want to accomplish something can be a great motivator to help them through the process of reaching their goal.

If the goal they choose seems outlandish (learning to fly a plane when your child is eight, for example), don't dismiss it as out of reach. Encourage your child to research the goal and learn more about it so he or she can take the appropriate next steps.

#5 Break Goals Into Smaller, Achievable Steps

Setting (and achieving) goals can seem overwhelming! One way to set your child on the path to success is to help them break larger goals into smaller, more manageable steps.

This can be especially helpful when tackling lofty, long-term goals that may take months (or even years!) to complete. For example, if your child wants to be a professional swimmer one day, something they could start focusing on now is mastering a specific swim stroke or making the swim team. Setting small achievable goals will help them build the skills and confidence they need to reach their larger goal.

#6 Create a Plan for Overcoming Obstacles

All goals (big and small) take time to achieve, and there will be challenges along the way! Instead of looking at setbacks as failures, parents can encourage kids to reframe the way they look at these roadblocks and create a plan for overcoming any obstacles they may encounter so they can keep making forward progress.

As parents, we have many opportunities to influence the way our children perceive accomplishments and setbacks. When we focus on the outcome (good or bad), it can set our kids up for an all-or-nothing mentality. Instead, we should focus on their effort. Instead of commenting on the outcome first, try asking your kids the following questions:

  • How did you feel things went today?
  • What progress are you making?
  • What did you learn from that experience (success or setback)?

By having our children self-assess the situation before offering feedback to encourage and support them, we can play a healthy role in the way our children view their successes and setbacks.

If kids are really disappointed and hard on themselves after a failure, rather than just countering those words with compliments and reassurance, parents can also empathize and say things like, “You really seem disappointed in the way things went today. I’m sorry you feel so upset. I hope tomorrow is better. What do you think you could do next time?”

When we try to bolster our kids with positive comments in the face of their own disappointment, and don’t empathize with the ‘big feelings’ that come along with them, kids can become reluctant to try things. If we can help them manage the disappointment and move on, our kids become emotionally stronger and ready to take on the next big thing.

#8 Proudly Display Their Goals

The more we’re reminded of something, and can visualize what we want to achieve, the more likely we are to accomplish what we set out to do. One fun way to put your child’s goals on full display is to have them create a dream board you can hang up in their room or on the refrigerator.

My friends at Goldfish Swim School even have a special activity sheet your family can use! Download their dream cloud and have fun decorating it at home. Before you hang it on the fridge, don’t forget to snap a picture and share it on social media using #DreamBigLittleFish. When you do, you’ll automatically be entered to win a prize package your child can use to follow their dreams!

READ MORE: Learn How to Enter Goldfish Swim School's Dream BIG Little Fish Giveaway

#9 Help Them Identify an Accountability Buddy

One of the hardest things about goal setting can be staying on track to accomplish everything we originally set out to achieve. Having an accountability partner can make it easier to stay on track and maintain momentum! Help your kids create an accountability system by identifying other people, in addition to yourself, who can help cheer them on and motivate them along the way, like a teacher, coach or grandparent! Then, have them give each person ideas of how they can help them accomplish their goal.

As their accountability buddy, it’s important to remember that some goals may need to be revised—and that’s okay! If you find that your child has abandoned a goal, don’t just brush it under the rug. Asking them questions to find out why can help you uncover the feelings behind their lack of progress and allow you to work with them to revise their original goal if the interest is still there. Teaching your child that goals can be modified as you learn more about yourself, and the work it takes to achieve them, is a really important step too!

#10 CELEBRATE Their Progress

Encouraging kids to take on new things, letting them do it on their own, and praising their effort allows kids to see the connection between their actions and the outcome. As a result, kids become more confident and resilient—now that’s something worth celebrating!

Decide as a family how you will celebrate your children as they reach the goals they set for themselves. Whether it’s hanging a special sticker chart on the refrigerator or a special family outing (like attending Family Swim at your local Goldfish Swim School), get creative and have fun coming up with ideas.

HELPING LITTLE FISH ACCOMPLISH BIG DREAMS

What’s a goal your child wants to achieve? Whether it’s learning how to swim or something else, we want your little fish to know they can accomplish anything they set their mind to. That’s why we’re hosting a special giveaway that encourages kids to believe in and achieve their dreams!

Here’s how to enter:

  • Have your kiddo draw a picture of their BIG dream and share it with us on social media using #DreamBigLittleFish by August 31, 2021 for the chance to win prizes they can use to help make their dream come true.
  • With the help of some special friends, we’ll be announcing one lucky winner on social media each week!

We even have a special coloring sheet your kids can use! Click here for a printable version you can decorate at home, or pick one up at your local Goldfish Swim School.

At Goldfish Swim School, we love seeing our swimmers set and achieve their goals – in and out of the pool. Using The Science of SwimPlay®, we help kids gain the courage to jump into new experiences and develop confidence in their abilities, all while learning how to become safer swimmers. Your child’s potential is in there, sometimes you just need to add water! Stop by your local Goldfish Swim School today to learn more and see what the Golden Experience is all about!

Dr. Molly O’Shea is a board-certified pediatrician and owner of Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center in Bloomfield Hills, MI and Campground Pediatrics + Wellness Center in Washington Township, MI. She has been in practice for over 25 years and has served at the state and national levels for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She was the ‘Ask the Pediatrician’ columnist for the Detroit News for many years and was a journal editor as well. Dr Molly is a lifelong swimmer, former triathlete, wife and mother.

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