As 2022 draws to a close and a new year is on the horizon, now is a great time to sit down with your child and talk about their hopes, dreams, and intentions for 2023. While most people think of New Year’s resolutions as an adult concept, setting and working towards achievable goals is actually a fantastic practice for children’s development. The process of deciding on a goal with your child is also a great bonding activity and you may find you learn a lot about their inner world simply by taking the time to listen to the things that are important to them.
What’s the benefit of setting goals for preschoolers?
Creates a sense of empowerment. All humans like to feel in control of their life and our children are no different. It’s easy for young children to feel that they don’t have much say in how their life flows, but allowing them to choose a goal that is important to them helps them feel that they have control and power in their own lives, and reminds them that their parents are here to help them achieve the things that are important to them.
Encourages a growth mindset. It’s easy for children to notice all the things they can’t yet do and that feel totally out of reach. Things like riding a bike, reading independently, swimming a lap of the pool, or counting to 100 can feel impossible to a 3- or 4-year-old who hasn’t yet practised these skills. But setting an achievable, age-appropriate goal shows children that they can quickly improve skills that they focus their time and attention on, reminding them that even things that feel impossible are achievable if you put in the effort.
Teaches children how to break down tasks into small, achievable sections. Even most adults will agree that it’s easy to become overwhelmed and intimidated by a big goal or task and this can sometimes lead to procrastination or avoidance. By taking one of our children’s big goals and breaking it into small, achievable steps, we can help teach our children how to approach difficult tasks without becoming overwhelmed.
Improves self-accountability and internal motivation. The research is very clear that people are more likely to achieve goals when they are intrinsically motivated. Intrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from within an individual, as opposed to external motivation which usually comes in the form of punishment and rewards. For example, if your child decides for themselves that they want to be able to read a book by the end of next year, this means they are intrinsically motivated to achieve this goal. Drawing on this form of motivation is going to be a lot more effective than traditional methods of encouraging a behaviour such as reward charts or praise.
How to help preschoolers set New Year’s goals?
As anybody with a preschool-aged child will know, if you simply ask your child what they’d like to achieve next year, you may get an answer ranging from “become a paleontologist” to “learn how to be a unicorn” or “fly a plane.” To help children set intentional, achievable, age-appropriate goals, you will need to guide them. First, you’ll need to focus on the “what” but once you’ve nailed that, it’s worth also talking about the “why” and finally, the “how.”
This is where your child may need a lot of guidance initially. You may need to use your own knowledge of your child’s interests to help suggest a few ideas, but don’t let yourself be limited by only the most obvious examples (e.g. learning to read or ride a bike.) Here are some examples to consider:
Physical goals – e.g. swimming a set number of metres alone, completing a long walk or performing a dance from start to finish.
Social goals – e.g. making a new friend or growing an existing relationship with somebody.
Independence goals – e.g.buying something from a shop alone (under supervision), going to the toilet without help, or falling asleep alone
Academic goals – e.g. learning the alphabet, reading a set number of sight words, writing their name, counting to a set number.
Emotional regulation goals – e.g. learning and implementing a new self-regulation skill (e.g. going to their room to yell to let out anger/frustration).
Financial goals – e.g. saving a set amount of money to buy something important to them by doing chores.
Community goals – e.g. Regularly volunteering, or committing to helping a friend or neighbour with a routine task.
The key to choosing a good goal is to be very specific. Your child may express a desire to simply be “better” at something, like reading, emotional regulation, or dancing. While this is a great start, you’ll need to help your child identify exactly what that would look like and set a clear, specific goal such as “read my Sleeping Beauty book all by myself” or “remember all the moves to the end-of-year Christmas dance.”
This is an important step in the goal-setting process, because without a strong “why”, it is difficult to work towards a challenging goal. Talk with your child about their motivations for wanting to achieve this goal and help them visualise exactly how they feel when they’ve succeeded. You may need to circle back to this step during the year if your child’s motivation is waning. Ask your child to take a moment to close their eyes and fully embody what they will feel like when they’ve achieved their goal. Have them describe exactly what it looks like, feels like, and even smells like. The more vividly they are able to imagine their success, the easier it will be to stay motivated throughout the year.
This step is crucial to the goal-setting process, as it teaches your child that big goals can be broken up into small achievable steps. It’s a good idea to grab a pen and paper and jot down the following points:
Your child’s goal (remember to be specific)
The people or resources your child will need to help them reach their goal
The regular practice they will need to commit to in order to work towards their goal (e.g. learning one new sight word a week, or practising dance for 10 minutes a week.)
How you will monitor progress (children love to see their progress visually, so a chart they can tick off every week can be a great motivator)
At Mini Masterminds, we help children set achievable goals, work towards them daily, and then celebrate their successes when they reach new milestones. Our Prep School program helps develop children’s social, emotional, physical, fine motor, language, cognitive, and self-help skills in preparation for the ultimate goal – starting kindergarten! Learn more here or contact us today to discuss enrolling your child in one of our centres.