Goals help with a sense of purpose. Achieving even small goals can improve mood. Helping kids set goals and break them down into parts can help their progress, which improves their mental health. Download our worksheet to get started.

The goals we set and the progress we make on those goals is important to our mental health.

  • Goals give us a sense of purpose. People who feel they have important goals report higher life satisfaction.
  • Accomplishing goals is related to a positive mood. While the opposite is also true, failing to accomplish our goals leads to lower emotional well-being.

This is why teaching kids how to set and accomplish goals is so important! Setting realistic goals is not always easy. Many people choose big goals that take longer than their patience and attention allow and give up. They may even feel frustrated because there is no way to measure progress.

Research shows that while the big goals are important in helping us define who we want to be and the life we want to live, it is the little goals that are necessary to help us feel happier and more accomplished!

SMART goals are a way of thinking about and creating goals that can be broken down into smaller steps. Then you can celebrate the little steps and accomplishments that happen toward the larger goal.

When you set goals with children, you’ll understand them a little bit better! The goals a child has will help you understand what they value and what is important to them. You will understand more about what motivates them and why certain events may be upsetting. Keep in mind that when something gets in the way of their goal, they’re likely to be frustrated.

So how do I help children set goals?

SMART goals help with organization, focus and breaking down large goals. They can help build confidence as realistic goals are set. Here’s a step-by-step guide, download our handout below to help you get started:

Specific

Make sure that their goal is well-defined, rather than vague. If a child’s goal is to be a good friend, help them think about small goals they could set to help them achieve that. Helping a friend with a problem? Spending time with them during lunch? Think of creating a small enough goal that they could cross off a list. If it is not an action item, the goal may still be too big or vague and can be broken down further.

Asking children questions to help them define their goals:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What small steps can I take to accomplish this goal?
  • Where do I have to do the work for this goal?

Measurable

By setting a goal that is measurable, they can track progress and stay motivated to do the work. “My goal is to check in with my friend on how they’re feeling each morning.” “My goal is to spend time with my friend after school once a week.”

Attainable

Setting goals that are so lofty it would be impossible to reach them is not a good idea. Stretching yourself while being realistic is the best strategy. If a child and their friend have different after school activities most weeknights, then setting a goal of seeing each other after school every day may not be possible. However, if both of them are free on Thursdays, getting together one night a week may be possible if their families agree. Start small and build from there! Here are some questions you can help them think through:

  • What do I need to do to achieve the goal?
  • Do I need help from others?
  • Are there known obstacles or requirements I have to keep in mind?

Relevant

Ensuring that the goal is aligned with the child’s values is important. Ideally, their goals should help them advance to a new level, personally, academically, or otherwise. For example, deciding to have more time to do fun activities with a friend will deepen their relationship. Try asking:

  • Why do you want to accomplish that?
  • Why is this goal important to you?

Timely

Defining a deadline up front helps with motivation, especially for those who work better when a sense of urgency looms. Knowing that you will achieve your goal on a certain date gives you something to look forward to. Setting a goal for a certain number planned activities with their friend each month (or each year) can give them something to celebrate when they achieve it. Ask them when they want to achieve their goal by.

Remember that goals can’t be achieved overnight and they take time. Help set kids up for success by starting small and measurable- if they feel good about their progress, they are more likely to keep going. Celebrate little milestones along the way and use setbacks as a way to learn and problem-solve how to reach a goal.