Helping Kids Set and Reach Personal Goals

Checklist being completedMatt is 8 years old.  He has watched every Star Wars movie, the launch of every NASA shuttle, and all the YouTube videos he can find about man’s landing on the moon.  Matt’s dream–to be the first person to set foot on the surface of Mars.  The problem–Matt doesn’t consistently do his homework.

Fast forward thirty years.  Matt still loves Star Wars (he has now watched three more films), NASA, and anything having to do with space exploration.  He works a steady job, but he has been passed over for promotion on a couple of different occasions.  He has several suits in his closet, but the only thing that remotely resembles a spacesuit is a set of painter’s coveralls.

What happened? Why didn’t Matt realize his dream of going to Mars?  The answer–Matt didn’t follow through.  Either he never learned how or never took action to pursue his goal.

Connecting the Dots

I recently posted about the need for parents to help their kids understand the law of the harvest–the reality that we reap what we sow.  Kids need to understand that the people they become tomorrow depends largely on the choices they make today.

Like Matt, most kids have aspirations for their lives, but many fail to connect the dots between their someday accomplishments and their present-day choices.  These kids would tell you they understand that achievement requires planning and effort.  However, a lot of kids behave as though the two concepts have nothing to do with one another.

That’s where parents need to step in.  And one of the most practical ways parents can help their children is by teaching them to set and reach goals.

If a two-year-old can do it…

It doesn’t matter how old your children are, goal-setting is a good tool to help them grow.  In fact, if at all possible, I would encourage you to start working on goals early.

My wife Deb recently started working with our two-year-old son Noah to prepare him for the day when he will sit in the church auditorium during our Church Family Night services.  She started out by giving Noah a cup of Cheerios and asking him to sit in a chair for five minutes.  Then, she set a kitchen timer, and told him that he needed to remain silent and still until he heard the timer ring.  If he spoke or started squirming in his chair, she told him that she would have to reset the timer and he would have to start over.

After a restart or two, Noah got the hang of it.  He was able to sit still for the full five-minutes.  And when he did (and this is really important), Deb rewarded him for his accomplishment.  She gave him a special treat that he enjoys.  She did this because we want Noah to see that hard work brings blessings.

Once Noah had mastered the five-minute clock, Deb began increasing the goal.  It’s been a couple of months since this process began, and Noah is currently able to silently and patiently sit still for a period of twenty-five minutes.  Now, our Church Family Nights are a lot longer than twenty-five minutes, so we’ve still got some work to do, but we’re really excited to see his progress.

I share this story because, even though my wife and I think Noah is exceptional, I’m not sure he’s any more extraordinary than other parents would find their own children.  So, if your average two-year-old can reach goals like this, then it’s likely something your child can do.


I didn’t come up with these guidelines, and you won’t find them listed anywhere in Scripture; but the SMART system is a proven tool that has helped many corporations and business professionals achieve their goals.  Using the word SMART as an acrostic, here are some qualities that ought to be true of your child’s goals.

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable
R – Relevant
T – Time-Bound


  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • When will you work on this?
  • Where will you work on this?
  • Who is involved?
  • Bad example:  Raise my grades.
  • Good example:  Raise my math grade one letter by the end of this grading period.


  • You should be able to measure your child’s progress.
  • You need concrete criteria that can tell you whether you child has accomplished the goal
  • Bad example:  Become a better reader.
  • Good example:  Read 30 pages each week for the next month.


  • Goals should be appropriate to your child’s age and abilities.
  • Don’t set goals that, while good, would be beyond the reach of your child.
  • Bad example:  Memorize the book of John in the next month.
  • Good example:  Memorize and apply one verse for each week of the next month.


  • Goals should make sense for your child.
  • Goals should address deficiencies.
  • Goals should make a difference in your child’s life or the lives of others.
  • Bad example:  Become the most popular person in school by the end of the year.
  • Good example:  Invite three different classmates over to play in the next two weeks.


  • Set a deadline.
  • Don’t leave things open ended, but allow enough time to accomplish the goal.
  • Bad example:  Lose 5 pounds.
  • Good example:  Lose 5 pounds in the next month.

Think in Categories

I would encourage you to think about goals for the various categories of your child’s life.  Here are some examples:

Spiritual Goals
Spend 15 minutes reading the Bible and praying each day for the next week.

Physical Goals
Walk around the neighborhood with mom or dad 30 minutes each day for the next month.

Academic Goals
Work on Spanish vocabulary terms for 30 minutes three times a week for the next month.

Skill Goals
Practice piano for an hour twice each week for the next two months.

Financial Goals
In the next month, do extra chores to earn $20 toward the purchase of a new video game.

Position Your Child for Success

Here are some extra steps you can take to help your kids along the way…

  • Write goals down.
  • Post goals in a place where your child will see it.
  • Review progress regularly.  Frequency of review depends on the maturity of your children.  Less mature children will need more frequent reminders and encouragements.
  • Celebrate successes.  Praise and reward your children for their accomplishments.  You want them to see the process of setting and reaching goals as a positive experience.
  • Encourage them in pursuing goals that they can get excited about.  While it’s appropriate for parents to dictate certain goals to their kids, you also ought to help them set goals that motivate them.
  • Do all you can to position them for success.  Eventually, you want your children to begin setting and reaching goals without your assistance.  So, if you’re just getting started, you want to help them get a few victories under their belts.  Hopefully, these victories will help them develop a taste for the process that will motivate them to keep reaching.

Conversation Starters

  • What matters to you more than anything else?
  • If you could do anything, what would it be? Why?
  • Which of your dreams gets you really inspired?
  • What’s the biggest goal you ever reached?  How did you achieve it?
  • How do you feel when you achieve a goal?
Trey Garner
Trey Garner is the Pastor of Children's Ministries at Faith Church. He has been married to his wife Deb since 2001. They have two children named Noah and Lauren. Originally from Texas, Trey appreciates barnwood, armadillos, and Blue Bell Ice Cream.