Learning how to set realistic goals:
Many children battle with goal setting. Their goals tend to be unrealistic or based on the standard answers they believe are expected of them. With that in mind, I provide this goal-setting method with an explanation detailing how to help young learners choose healthy and realistic goals.
When discussing goals I like to use the elastic band analogy: if you pull the band too tight, it will snap, but if you hold the band loosely there will be no tension and the band cannot perform its function. The aim is for the band to be slightly stretched in order to perform the necessary task, but not so tight that it snaps. This is what your child’s goals should reflect – an elastic band optimally performing its function. If their goals are too easily reached (the elastic band is too loose) then it does not challenge them, but if their goals are far-fetched or unrealistic (the band is too tight) it will create anxiety and stress because it pushes the child beyond their current capabilities (where the child’s skills and abilities are at this moment) and consequently causes huge disappointment when their goal is not achieved. Their abilities and skills are always changing and developing, so parents and teachers should take care never to cap their potential.
Parent Tip: The Dynamic Visual Explanation (you will need a handful of pencil crayons and an elastic band):
Show your child an elastic band, explaining to them that it represents them. To start, show and discuss with them what happens if the band is too loose: how the pencil crayons fall out and are not held together, and likewise when the band is stretched too tight that it can snap and hurt their hand. However, if the band fits snugly around the pencil crayons they are held together and the band has performed its function. Now relate how the band is like them. If it is loose, the band is unable to hold the pencil crayons together - this means they (the child) are not challenged and are unable to receive the reward of success. Furthermore, they will not be attempting new and interesting tasks to achieve what they want. Next, show and discuss with them what happens if the band is too tight: it will snap and the pencil crayons will fall to the floor. This means they are pushing themselves too hard and will fall apart, like the pencil crayons, meaning that they might become anxious, stressed and ultimately be disappointed. Discuss how worried they will be if they feel like they will not achieve their goal, how they will feel if they do not accomplish their goal and how they may avoid the task and adopt an “I don’t care” attitude. It is important to talk about issues like boredom, underachieving, lack of aspiration, anxiety, stress, and disappointment. If children are stretched too far they will not achieve their goals and lose out on the opportunity of achieving success. Lastly, show them the band wrapped around the crayons holding them together. Explain that this is how their goals should be: they start off, like the loose elastic band, with the potential and if they stretch themselves just enough they will achieve what they wanted to, just like the elastic band successfully holds the pencil crayons together.
So let us aim to be like the band that gets the job done!
Practical Application Examples:
1) If your child has been getting an aggregate of 50% aiming for 60% or above may be unrealistic, yet aiming for 2% more does not present much of a challenge. A healthy aim of 5% more is great – it challenges your child, but not so much that it seems impossible to achieve. The biggest problem is when a goal a child sets are outside of their current abilities and when they do not reach their target it is heartbreaking for them.
2) Let’s say your child is battling to read and is not finishing their class reading books. It would be unrealistic to expect them to complete all of them if they are not even achieving reading half the book in one week. It would be more realistic to aim to achieve reading an entire book in two to three weeks.
3) Your child can even set task goals: I am going to read a page a day, I am going to revise my maths work done at school every afternoon, I want to achieve a merit award once a month, etc.
Goals are important – never underestimate the importance of having something to aspire towards.