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We all want our kids to grow up to be kind, well-adjusted, contributing members of society—and of their future families, too. But how to get from here to there? It probably comes as no surprise, but at Cultivate, we believe learning how to set and achieve goals is key to this growth. With your help, your kiddos can experience the joy and satisfaction of working hard and achieving something that really matters, even from a young age—and so much can be built from that foundation!
Multiple studies have shown how quickly rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are growing in kids and teens (it's the focus of this issue of The Atlantic's cover story, among other things). Two scary examples: according to a Pew analysis, in 2017, one in five 12-to-17-year-old girls reported experiencing major depression; suicides by children age 5 to 11 have almost doubled in recent years.
While experts aren't unified on exactly why this is happening, many point to growing anxiety in younger children as the stepping stone to more serious problems later on—and the sense of helplessness that can lead to anxiety. "Far too often, we insulate our children from distress and discomfort entirely," goes the article. "And children who don't learn to cope with distress face a rough path to adulthood." While we'd never claim goals are the antidote to all of society's problems, encouraging our kids' capabilities, independence, resiliency, and grit goes a long way toward helping them live happy, healthy, whole lives. And that's where goals come in.
Today, we're sharing a few simple ways to get your kids goal setting—no perfection required.
P.S. Thank you. Even just by being here, you're demonstrating your care for the next generation, and that says something wonderful about you. We're cheering you on!
1. Remember that kids are much more capable than we think they are. I'll admit that I did a double take when I got a handout from my four-year-old's preschool asserting that she was perfectly capable of hanging up bath towels she's used, clearing the table, peeling carrots or cucumbers, feeding and caring for pets, and putting away groceries (including eggs!), among many other things. But on second glance, I realized she actually was capable of all these things—I just hadn't thought to allow her to try them. Consider consulting an expert developmental source to check if your expectations of your kids are accurate; when in doubt, assume they're more capable than you think they are.
2. Encourage her independence. In one of my favorite books, The Coddling of the American Mind, the authors suggest that as parents, we should be asking ourselves every month: what new thing can I let my child do or try? Is it unloading the delicate plates from the dishwasher? Playing in the backyard out of eyesight? Walking to a friend's house? This gradual lengthening of the rope through a simple monthly check-in will allow you both to take risks and develop confidence in a way that feels measured and doable.
3. Choose something that matters to her. If you're just getting started with the idea of goal setting, choose something she'll be excited to work on. Listen to her hopes and dreams as well as her casual comments, and then affirm what's possible. If she's gazing wistfully at the big kids riding their bikes, frame her longing as a goal to work toward (something she has agency in!) and then open up a conversation about the steps it might take to have her peddling confidently alongside them.
4. Know there will be disappointments along the way. Be prepared for them. If you're hesitant to even introduce the idea of goal setting because you're scared your child will get hurt, frustrated, or disappointed along the way, we hear you! But know that's one of the BEST reasons to teach our kids about goals now, when the stakes are so low. Comfort them and encourage them, ask them probing questions to help them get unstuck, but resist the urge to pave the way.
With you as their guide, they'll hear "progress, not perfection" over and over again. They'll learn that just because something takes many tries to master doesn't mean they should give up. And when they eventually achieve what they set their mind to, they'll feel the unique joy and satisfaction that comes from achieving something worthwhile.
5. Make it fun. As important as goals are, if they're all drudgery and hard work, no one will stick with them for long (kids OR adults!). Happily, we do things differently around here, because we know the truth about how goals really get accomplished. The PowerSheets® process works because it includes celebrating small wins, focusing on what matters most, and lots of fresh starts along the way!
For kids, having fun might look like a colorful chart to mark progress or lay out a process she's trying to master, rewards along the way, gaining privileges, incorporating beloved family members or friends, or serving up snacks. And if DEFINITELY looks like the Girls Goal Planner—the most fun way to work on goals that really matter!
Our NEW signature tool for girls age 8-13 is available now! To try a few pages now, enter your information below!
Friends, we'd love to hear your tips and success stories for setting goals with your kids. Please drop us a note in the comments!
P.S. A few more of our favorite resources for encouraging independent, capable kids: Let Grow, Simply on Purpose on Instagram, and the books Parenting with Love and Logic and The Coddling of the American Mind.