3 Keys for Teaching Kids to Set Goals

My favorite thing about January is that it’s a great time of year to set some meaningful goals. A few years ago, I started teaching our kids to set goals and this has become one of our family’s favorite traditions.

Each year, I take each of our kids out (one at a time) to Starbucks. This is a special time they really look forward to. They get to order one of their favorite drinks and we bring our notebooks to glance back at their goals from the past year and hash out some goals for the year ahead.

Goals look very different for each kid depending on their age and personality. I encourage them to bring a list that they’ve thought about beforehand and to throw in some goals that are simply just fun things they want to do that year. We do not worry too much about whether they’ve picked perfect goals. I know this is a learning process and they’re going to get better at it each year.

Teaching Kids to Set Goals at Starbucks with S.

Planning for Success


A good place to start teaching anyone to set successful goals is to use the SMART criteria. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. These criteria are very popular and there are many variations to these that have been around since the early 1980s.

For example, a goal such exercise more does not meet some of these criteria. It is not specific (what type of exercise, how much, etc). This goal is not measurable, and there is no timeline defined to achieve the goal.

A better goal might be to run 3 miles 3 times per week during 2017. This meets all of the SMART criteria and is much easier to track whether you are succeeding in your goal.

However, I have found from experience that these 3 keys are not enough.

Goal Setting with N at Starbucks.

VIP Goals – The 3 Real Keys for Successful Goals

A few years ago, I carefully went through my journals and examined my goal setting habits and successes for a 10 year period. There were many goals I succeeded in and many failures. As I went through 10 years of goals, I found 3 key patterns that have helped me to set more successful goals in recent years.

1) Values – Does the goal align with my deepest values?

I noticed a very weak track record for goals that I didn’t care deeply enough about. Many times we set goals that are logical. goals that sound like a good idea in theory, goals that we have copied from someone else.

Tell your kids to chose goals that they care deeply about. It’s no good to get halfway through the year to find yourself asking the question “Why am I doing this?”

2) Inspiration – Does this goal inspire me?

Inspiration is a mysterious ingredient that is difficult to measure but is indeed powerful. It really helps to chose a goal that you are inspired to achieve, or go find inspiration if you need it. Several years ago I was reading a book that was a compilation of different people’s experiences completing their first Ironman triathlon. It was just a fun read that I picked up from the library, but about halfway through something happened inside of me and I knew that I needed to complete an Ironman.

It was really one of the strangest goals that I achieved driven almost 100% by inspiration. However, almost everybody who chooses that specific goal had a similar experience where they were deeply inspired by someone else’s story. I have never done anything like that since, but it has always served as an example to me of the magic of inspiration.

Guide your kids to choose goals they are inspired to achieve, or help them to seek out inspiration.

3) Periodic – How often do I have to engage with this goal?

Perhaps most counter-intuitive pattern I noticed is that doing less of something is not always easier. I found that I have been very successful in the past at goals a very periodic. If I set out to do something every day, I am much more likely to be successful than if I set out to do something a few times per week.

For example, many years I set a goal to exercise a certain number of times per week. I find at the beginning of the week, it is easy to put things off because I still have plenty of other days. But pretty soon the week has flown by and I’m not able to get in the number of days I had planned. The next thing I know I’ve given up on the goal.

One year I decided to try exercising every day of the year. My blood pressure and cholesterol were higher than normal so I was highly motivated. I found the momentum of doing something every day made it much easier to continue the pattern successfully.

For frequency-based goals, help your kids choose a frequency that is easy to track. Rather than doing something 3 times per week, maybe do something smaller every day or stick to specific days like Monday, Wednesday, Friday.


Do your kids like to set goals? If not, it’s never to early to start growing in the art of goal-setting!



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2 thoughts on “3 Keys for Teaching Kids to Set Goals

  • 01/05/2017 at 1:43 PM

    Great tips! I really need to start involving my kids in goal setting!

    • 01/05/2017 at 2:01 PM

      Thanks Sabrina! It’s never too early to start. Even our youngest (6) was super enthusiastic as you can tell from her photo. I was surprised by how ambitious her goals were!


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