Teaching kids to set goals

Apr 12, 2011 at 11:00 a.m. ET

Most of us are familiar with the concept of setting goals and we'd like to teach our kids how to do so. But few are familiar with the actual mechanics of goal setting, which can make teaching this skill difficult, if not impossible.

mother and daughter writing
Amanda Owen
, author of the bestselling book The Power of Receiving: A Revolutionary Approach to Giving Yourself the Life You Want and Deserve, teaches about the importance of goals. Her insight will help you set and reach your own goals, and teach your children to do the same.

The importance of goal-setting

It can sometimes be difficult for adults to reach their goals because they never learned how to identify what they want, ask for it and take the steps necessary to get it. "If you begin teaching your children early how important it is to set a goal, how to say what they want -- not in generalities, but in specifics -- by the time they reach adulthood, they will have already achieved many of their goals and be on their way to reaching many more," says Owen.

Be proactive

While it is true that life is a great teacher, it most cases, parents are the best teachers. This is true when it comes to goal writing. "Although it may seem like common sense that life would teach us through experience how to reach a goal, for many people this simply not true," says Owen. "And, there is no reason to not give kids a head start!"

Effective goal writing

One of the best ways to teach your kids about goal writing is to model the practice yourself. Take some time to share some of your own goals with them and show them how you've identified them. Then, walk them through the process. Owen provides the following suggestions:

  • Write down exactly what you want, in one sentence.
  • Your goal should be simple and specific.
  • The goal has to be yours. It cannot be about what you want other people to do.
  • Give your goal a time frame. How soon do you want it?

Practical tips

As parents, we have a long list of "must teach" topics, and they pick and choose what they'll take to heart. To give yourself the best chance to communicate a goal writing lesson successfully, Owen suggests you do, or don't do, the following:


  • Ask your kids what they want.
  • Listen to them express their desires and dreams.
  • Strategize with them. What small steps can they take now to make their goal a reality?


  • Tell them their goal is unrealistic.
  • Coach them to want a goal that you want for them.
  • Allow your busy life to get in the way of bringing the goal exercise to completion.

Ultimately, you have an opportunity to teach your kids an invaluable tool when it comes to goal writing. While they can certainly learn the hard way in life, taking the initiative to teach them yourself will give them a distinct advantage in life.

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