Goal-setting for tweens: Here's what to know

Goal-setting is a part of self-management, and it helps your child increase self-awareness, self-management, and self-esteem.
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Goal-setting is a part of self-management, and it helps your child increase self-awareness, self-management, and self-esteem. Being able to plan ahead and work toward a goal is a skill that will help your child now and well into adulthood. At the middle-school age, your child should have a better understanding of goals than he did in younger years. Your child’s goals may be related to academics, extracurriculars, or even friendships. For example, a goal could be to get above 80 percent on an upcoming test, finish all his homework on time, or make up with a friend after an argument. Helping your child with time management and priorities is another way of encouraging self-management and goal setting. As your child has more academic responsibility, more extracurriculars, and more desire to hang out with friends, work with him to set priorities and map out his time.

Map out and track goals with your child. Ask your middle-schooler what he wants or needs to accomplish in the next month and the steps he’ll take to reach those goals. For example, he may have a science fair project due at the end of the month. Help him calculate how much time he’ll need to research, to experiment, and to put together the presentation. Map out with him how much time he needs daily to reach that goal. Perhaps the first week he’ll spend 30 minutes each night researching, then the next week he’ll run the experiment and report findings, then the following week he’ll draft his findings, and the final week he will work on the presentation. Some children like to map out and track progress with an online tool or calendar. At the end of the month, did he complete the project on time? If he didn’t, use this as a time to discuss what he could do in the future to better-manage his time, or what distracted him from working. Was it a realistic goal in the timeframe? Did he need more time each night or did he spend the time allotted for the project on something else?

Tom Hoerr, Head of School at New City School in St. Louis, notes that some children have a hard time setting goals they can reach. He recommends having children who struggle with goals set two goals; one that is regular, and one that is a “stretch” goal. The regular goal is reachable most of the time with focus and effort. The stretch goal probably won’t be reached, but striving toward it is still helpful. Being able to tell the difference between these types of goals can help your child set realistic goals.

Milestones and transitions are another way to incorporate goal-setting. Going from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school is an important milestone. For some families, there are religious or other “coming of age” transitions that provide an opportunity for planning and goal-setting. Director of Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Lab Dr. Maurice Elias suggests these milestones as an area where children can appreciate goal-setting, to break up what may seem too large to handle at once into smaller, more manageable pieces. For other children, the goal and plan may provide a structure and responsibility that they might not normally seek out.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Thomas Hoerr, Emeritus Head of School, New City School, and Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab.