BUSH: Kids need to set goals

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Goal setting is an important skill for kids to learn, just as it is for adults. It is a wonderful boost to a child's self-esteem when he or she is able to set a goal, work hard and then achieve it, says Matthew Devereaux, a professor and child development specialist with the University of Extension Family and Consumer Sciences.

Devereaux says parents should consider these suggestions when helping their children set goals:

1. Actively listen to children's wishes and dreams.

- Listen to statements from your children, like "I wish I could _____".  These are great opportunities to help them set a goal.

- Help older children explore interests, hobbies, sports, and possible job opportunities.

- Help children hone their interests. This may help them as they grow older in selecting a rewarding career or fulfilling hobby.

2. Help children set realistic goals.

- Younger children need to have very short-term goals. In fact, their first goal should only take a day or two for them to master.

- Use "I" statements when writing goals, such as "I can…" and "I will…" This helps them visualize that the goal IS something they CAN do.

3. Help children explore different types of goals.

- Academic: I can improve my grades. I can learn my multiplication facts.

- Sports: I can score more rebounds in basketball. I can learn how to do a back handspring.

- Personal: I can stay in my own bed all night. I can keep my room clean.

- Financial: I can save money to buy a new video game.

- Relationships: I can make a new friend at school.

- Health: I can eat healthier foods. I can exercise or play outside for 60 minutes each day.

4. Encourage children to develop a timeline and steps to attain their goals. An important step is setting a timeline that is age appropriate, Devereaux says. "Sometimes it's necessary to break things into smaller, more attainable chunks in order to achieve a larger goal. Children may need help in developing this hierarchy along the way," he said. Here are some examples:

Goal:  I can keep my room clean.

1. Make bed every day.

2. Keep books on bookshelf.

3. Put dirty clothes in hamper.

4. Keep clean clothes put away.

5. Put toys away each day.

Goal:  I can be more organized for school.

1. Keep track of my own homework assignments.

2. Pack my own backpack daily.

3. Choose my own school clothes & lay them out ahead of time.

4. Pack my own lunch.

5. Pay attention to the clock and recognize when it is time to go to school.

Devereaux says it's important to help children reflect on their progress daily. "Encourage them by using comments like, 'Look how close you are.' Praise them each step of the way. Develop your own goals and monitor your own progress so children can learn by example," he recommends. "When barriers or obstacles arise, show them how important it is to keep on working towards their goals!"

The child development expert also says it's important to chart progress. "Several websites offer free behavior or reward charts that you can print out. But you can easily draw out your own table, pictures or game boards to use. You can color in progress or use stickers to show their success." Devereaux recommends posting the chart near the area that is near or represents their goal, such as a bathroom, bedroom, desk, etc., to serve as a visual reminder of steps and progress.

The final step in the goal setting lesson it to reward children for their hard work and perseverance. Show them how proud you are of them and help them celebrate, says Devereaux. "Following these steps will boost your child's self-confidence and their self-esteem, as well!"

Through specialists such as Devereaux and a network of Extension agents, the UT Extension Department of Family and Consumer Sciences provides outreach and education in each county in Tennessee about issues related to child development, parenting, nutrition, health and family economics.  Contact your local county UT Extension office for more information at 615-563-2554 or visit the website: http://fcs.tennessee.edu/fcs/

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