Elementary school isn’t too young to learn the art of goal setting. Anyone old enough to think about “what I want to be when I grow up” is old enough to practice with simple short-term goals:

  • Saving to buy a toy or hobby item
  • Learning a new skill
  • Climbing higher or running faster
  • Improving efficiency on homework or chores

Even if your kids are still learning to spell, you can teach them the basic concepts of SMART goals:


If your child says, “I wish I could buy potato chips all the time,” ask questions to help him put “all the time” into specific terms and figure out exactly what he really wants: “Do you mean every week? Every Friday after school? How much do you eat at a time?”



Once your child has a specific picture of what achieving his goal will look like, help him figure out what will go into achieving that goal (and perhaps decide whether it’s worth achieving at all):

“What do your favorite potato chips cost? How much of your allowance is that? What else could you use the money for? Would you rather have some of those other things and eat potato chips less often? Could you save money by getting a bigger bag and eating just part of it at a time?”



Little kids have fantastic imaginations, which is normally an asset, but can lead to trouble when they insist they’re ready to walk home alone or use equipment intended for middle schoolers. Use your good judgment in guiding them, but don’t be too quick to insist “You’re too young for that,” especially if possible consequences are no worse than frustration. Young children often are capable of more than we think, and more willing than adults to persist until they succeed.


Do encourage your kids to talk about “what I want to be when I grow up” and other long-term dreams. Even if they can’t yet grasp the idea of five- and ten-year goals, they can understand how shorter-term goals equal first steps toward becoming that scientist or singer.


Don’t automatically assume young children can’t persist toward goals that take more than a couple of days: remember how long they practiced walking before graduating from crawlers to toddlers? Still, once they’re ready to think in terms of specific hours or dates, it usually works best to start goal-setting within fairly short time frames: “by Friday afternoon” or “in two weeks.” If something will take longer, show them how to break it into milestones of progress and schedule these one at a time.


Show your kids how each point of goal-setting works, and offer to hold them accountable for sticking to goals. Just don’t take over the planning. While young children need adult guidance, to turn the art of goal-setting into a lifetime of achievement they also need every opportunity to practice thinking for themselves.

What have you done this week to help yourself move just a little closer to perfect?