Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Goal Setting and Hope: Helping Children See the Possible

Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Goal Setting and Hope: Helping Children See the Possible

Article excerpt

Hope isn't just passively wishing and waiting for something to happen. Hope leads to the drive to set and pursue goals, take risks, and initiate action. Hope fuels problem-solving and helps children develop personal strengths and social resources. Research shows that high-hope people are excited about the future and set goals for themselves. Fishful Thinking gives parents tools to teach their children how to set positive goals, develop a system of appropriate rewards, and promote strategies of thinking that will enable children to go after whatever they want out of life.

Helping children set goals and work toward them effectively is an important aspect of hope and is critical to achievement in school and life. Setting goals that are unrealistic; do not match one's talents, skills, and strengths; and/or are not accompanied by a plan to achieve those goals leads to frustration and disengagement. Luckily, adults can teach children specific strategies for setting goals that are realistic and achievable.


There are many different kinds of goals that generally fall into three categories: achievement goals, process goals, and strength goals.

Achievement goals regard something we'd like to attain: getting a higher grade on a test, making the soccer team, or eating less junk food. Process goals regard the method and manner in which we'd like to do whatever it is we are doing: studying persistently for 20 minutes, thanking people politely, waiting patiently for one's turn. Process goals focus on the how (studying persistently), rather than the outcome (getting an A). Strength goals are goals we set for ourselves that highlight character assets that we'd like to develop more fully: Feeling more confident when speaking in class, being kind to one's sister, and being more grateful for the good things in one's life are examples of strength goals.


There are many different approaches to goal-setting. Most approaches, however, highlight the following steps as critical to success.

Learn from past successes and failures. Help children identify when they achieved a goal and how, as well as times they did not succeed and why. Questions to consider include: How important was the goal to the things they value in life? Was the goal realistic and did it match their strengths? What were the steps for getting there and did they work? What obstacles did they face and how did they get around them (or not)? How did they feel when they reached their goal (or did not)?

Set specific and measurable goals. When goals are vague, you are destined to fall short of achieving them. Work with your child to set a goal that is specific and measurable. Specific goals are clear and help your child to know exactly what he or she wants to improve or do differently. Measurable goals are critical because they enable your child to evaluate how he or she is doing- and to change behaviors as necessary. "Do better in school" is vague. "Turn in my history paper by Friday" is specific and measurable. "Be nicer" is vague. "Say three kind things to my sister each day" is specific and measurable. As the parent, it is important that you help your child craft the goal so that it is specific and can be measured. Many children have a hard time doing this (at least initially). You can help turn a vague goal into a specific and measurable goal by asking questions that begin to narrow and define an objective and the resources necessary to achieve it. Once your child has a specific and measurable goal, write it down. You'll want to help her to develop the plan for reaching her goal, and the best way to do this is to put it on paper.

Set Goldilocks goals (not too hard, not too easy, but just right). It is important to set goals that are realistic and attainable- but not too easy. Goals that are too hard can undercut motivation, and goals that are too easy can do the same. …

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