The new school year is about to begin. Are you ready? Is your child? How will you each know?
To answer that question, you first each need to consider what you want the outcome to be. What accomplishments and feelings would you each like to have on the last day of school? Essentially, what are your goals?
In future blogs, we will be addressing how to develop some important tools and strategies for building your child’s Executive Function skills (the cognitive skills that give us the ability to focus, plan, and act in a goal-directed manner). But let’s start off with seeing what we can do now to help you and your child prepare for a successful school year.
Start with The End In Mind – What Are The Goals Of This School Year?
I am a firm believer that in order to make any change or progress, it’s helpful to start basic and small. You and your child will no doubt have different ideas as to what you believe is important and reasonable to set as goals for the year. As parents, we are often focused not just on the academic subjects, but on the broader life skills that must be developed to support achieving future goals. Things such as waking up independently, managing personal hygiene, and keeping personal space clean and orderly are on many parents’ minds. Students, in addition to thinking about their classes, are often focused on their developing social life, pursuing their interests, and having downtime to just chill.
A good place to start planning for the new year is by taking out a sheet of paper simply w
riting a list of what you each thought went well last year and what areas you would each like to see growth or change happen. While you may instinctively want to shape the list to your vision, it will be most valuable at this point to get your child’s input and perspective. When looking back over the areas that may not have going well last year, try to highlight the ones where your child can more easily see the value in working toward growth. The discussion is intended to help your child visualize a positive, satisfying, and productive school year.
Here are a few areas you may want to consider in your discussion:
- Waking up independently
- Getting adequate sleep
- Finishing homework within a reasonable amount of time
- Maintaining a reasonable GPA
- Contributing to household chores
- Participating in a school club
- Participating in a sports team
- Developing new friendships
- Maintaining healthy personal hygiene
Once you have developed your list of areas you agree could use improvement, then you can begin setting some goals. I recommend you start with just a few areas so as not to create too much overwhelm or stress. As certain areas improve, you can add on new goals. If the goal is too vague or broad, then it may not be valuable, motivating, or achievable within the coming school year. To ensure it’s value, you will want to elaborate on each goal listed. It is helpful to use the acronym SMART to supercharge your goals.
Each goal should be:
- “I will wake up on my own in time to be ready for the school bus.”
- “I will choose a club that interests me and will attend meetings regularly.”
- “I will develop a strategy to use regularly for studying for quizzes and tests.”
The Action Plan
Once the goals are fully written, write down all of the things that he will need to do to make each goal happen. Include the materials he will need, the steps he’ll need to take, and anything else that might be involved in creating his success. Also, consider what support he may need and from whom. You may want to consider having a dedicated notebook or journal where all of your child’s goal planning and monitoring can be tracked. If it is a goal that involves your child doing something more independently than he has in the past, you may need to consider intermediary steps before expecting full independence. For example, if you have been his alarm clock all of these years, he may need occasional support as he transitions to using his own clock.
Barriers and Obstacles
Often, the areas we choose as goals for ourselves represent some of the persistent challenges we face in our daily lives. “My goal is to exercise daily.” “My goal is to study more.” “My goal is to get to bed earlier.” If some of your child’s goals involve overcoming past challenges, it would be helpful to address the reasons why these areas have been difficult in the past. One of the Executive Function skills that all children need to develop is the ability to use their Self-Talk to help guide them in achieving their goals. Work hard with your child to tap into the barriers and obstacles they may have faced in the past when trying to achieve this goal. Empathy and encouragement may go a long way here. Be aware not to use any shame, blame, or criticism as this may shut your child down from talking and taking the chances they need to make the changes.
Keeping Track of Progress
Once a goal has been clearly defined, the steps have been identified, and the potential barriers and obstacles have been explored and addressed, it will be vital to help your child stay connected to his goals and on track with his plan. Keep in mind that often once the initial excitement of creating the plan wears off, it may become necessary to help him revisit and address any challenges he faces along the way. It’s also essential to help him acknowledge and appreciate the success along the way to help him stay motivated.
Learning how to set and track goals is a life skill that can help your child be successful throughout life. Keep in mind that this is a learning process and that sometimes the most valuable lessons are around choosing the best goals and knowing when and how to adjust our plans. Reach out to us if we can support you or your child with this process.
Enjoy the new school year.
Written by Cindy Goldrich for Woottutor
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