The first step in teaching your children to how to set goals is to dream a little with them. To do so effectively, you have to be open to discussing all possibilities that they might want to entertain. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question that you can ask at every age. There will be different answers to this question over the years, but as your child’s dreams change and develop, you can support this change in focus and help them set new goals. The point is not to expect to get the answer right on day one (and you should help your child understand this too), but to work through a goal-setting process, one that will likely take years to complete.
Brainstorm without Restrictions (“Permission to Dream”)
Start with brainstorming. Help your child think of all the things connected with “their dream” without any censorship. For instance: “I want to be in a circus!” Okay, what are all the jobs people do in the circus? There are the trapeze people, and the animal trainers, the clowns and the trick horse riders….you get the picture. List and discuss all of these jobs without any censorship. It’s very important that the child feels free to exercise his ideas, and not feel that he or she is being pushed around by yours.
Okay, so you gave your child permission to dream, and maybe you made a list of jobs they might want, no matter how outrageous they might be. Now the enormous question is: How do we get there from here?
Moving Beyond the Dreaming Stage
First, take the list and have the child or teenager write about or draw pictures of what life looks like when those goals are accomplished. Steep them in the reality of it. What would they be doing? Where would they likely be living? What kind of experiences would they have? What type of people would they be working with? Some people call this visualization, while others call it fantasy, but either way, it’s a good tool to help your child make their goal become more real.
Also, specific visualization helps children find out if the dream isn’t what they thought it was at first. Don’t shut down the child who wants to be an astronaut, but can’t go on those spinning rides at the fair. There may be limitations in actual astronaut work for that child, but maybe after he or she starts to draw a picture of it, it’s not really being an astronaut that’s appealing.
Maybe they just want to see the Earth from space or help get the space station operational so that their children can go out there someday. Maybe what they like about astronauts is the adventure of new places and the possibility of meeting aliens. Maybe they want to write space novels or movie scripts about astronauts. My point is this: Sometimes we let perceived limitations revoke our dreams, but don’t do that…get down to the gritty details as that helps us see what it really is that we wanted to do all along.
Steer Them Away from Circumstances
Sometimes children say they want to be millionaires, or live in a big house or drive a fancy car. But that’s not a life, those are circumstances. The question is: If you were a millionaire, what would you do? “I wish I were a millionaire so I could…what?” That’s the dream.
And, as you see your child start to focus in on a real goal, don’t be afraid to talk about potential barriers…not things that will stop her or him, but things that they will have to contend with to achieve this goal. Is it money? Is it time? Is it education? Usually there are many ways around any barrier, you just have to help your child work these out. So brainstorm the barriers, too, and then consider the price to accomplish this goal. If a child hopes to be a doctor, it’s good to be realistic about the educational requirements. If it’s her dream at ten, start focusing on the importance of education then, so that the child is practiced at the demands of education when admission to college, and subsequently medical school, comes around.
Explore all the possible ways that your child can get past the barriers to their goals. Now is not the time for logic or common sense. Turn off the censor that always seems to find a rational reason why something can’t be done. Write down every single idea. Let your child put the brainstorm list away and sleep on it. The next day brainstorm it again, digging for any possibilities you might have missed the previous time. Over some period of time, this will likely turn into a development plan for achieving this important goal.
Fun and Important Stuff
Whether it’s done for saving money to buy an item in the short term, or for planning a career for their life, teaching your children that they can set goals will be very useful throughout their lives.
This is the fun and important stuff…it’s a lot of fun to dream with your children…and so important when you suddenly witness one of these dreams give lift to their young wings and start to propel them in a certain direction. o, have some fun…and don’t forget to ask them what is the first thing they are going to say when they land on the moon.
"Life is a great big canvas; throw all the paint you can at it."
Written by Heidi Densmore
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