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Joy of the Month Excerpt (January)

A child who can set and accomplish a simple goal will become an adult who knows the joy of changing the world.

Adult: A speaker impressed me once with an uncommon answer to a common question. The question posed to him was: "With all you have to do, how do you look so relaxed?" (The boy who asked the question went on, partly for humor, partly for impact, to say that his father didn't have nearly as much responsibility, yet always was: "Each week, on a certain day at a certain time, I spend some time alone, setting goals for the week. I follow the priorities of family first, others second, myself third. I set objectives in each area, and if time is too short to do all I want to do, I put my goals into priority order so that I know the most important ones will get done. Then I plan how, and write my plans into my weekly calendar book."

Most anxiety comes from wondering where we should be or what we should be doing. Most joy comes from knowing both.

The goal-striving process sparks joy in flames of changing heat and color. First comes the anticipating, "fire-laying" joy of goal setting and planning. Next comes the growing, fulfilling, "fire-igniting" joy of hard work toward the goal. Then follows the bright, confidence-renewing, "full-fire" joy of reaching the goal, and later on, the reflective, warm embers of remembering the achievement.

Children can feel each phase of the joy. The danger is that some parents wanting high achievers, push their children to meet their (the parents') goals and create rebellion and negative views on accomplishment, or end up with children who are high achievers for the wrong reasons. Other parents, who bring about situations in which children feel for themselves the joy of setting and reaching simple goals, end up with children who find and enjoy real success.

Child: One of my clearest childhood memories is of my ninth summer, when my dad and my little brother and I built our log cabin. I remember sights: the slow-motion fall of fir trees, the wet, white notches in the logs. I remember sounds: father's "timburrr," the ring of hammer on nail. But most of all, I remember feelings: the good feeling of satisfied, accomplished exhaustion at the end of the day, and the boyant joy of standing that autumn, with my brother and my dad, looking up at the finished cabin, an accomplished goal, a work of our own hands. We had set that goal, we two small boys and our father, a year before. We had drawn plans and figured where to get the logs, and Dad had told us it would be work -- hard work. That experience taught the joy of having a goal, of working hard on that goal, of gradually seeing results, and of finishing and reaching the goal.

Our four year old came home from school one day and said, "My teacher asked if I thought I could learn these lines to take part in the school play, and I said I could."

"Well, honey, it's a pretty long part. It will be hard, but I think you can too. How can we do it?"

"You help me."

"Okay. Look at this calendar. Here is the date of the play. How many days do we have?"

"One, two, three, four, five, six."

"And how many lines on your part?"

"One, two, three, four, five, six. Hey, we can learn one line each day."

I noticed the sparkle in her eye. She had set a progressive goal; she was pleased and proud. That night we learned the first line. It wasn't easy, but her unmodest, wide smile after she finished was pure joy.

On the second night, as we worked on the second line, she looked up and said, "Whew, Dad, this is hard, but I'll get it." (A miniature version of the joy of discipline, of work, of gradual, earned progress.) By the big day, she knew the part. She delivered it with confidence and with the joy of a goal accomplished. Her teacher has a problem now. Saren volunteers for everything, and she often says to me, "Dad, remember when we learned that part? Wasn't that fun?"

Sample Methods

1. Experiencing a goal

  1. A three or four year old can experience the joy of setting and achieving a simple goal. Ask the child if he can think of a goal for himself. Help him decide on one. It might be self-improvement: learning to zip his coat, flush the toilet, or walk across the street safely. It might be solving a problem: not getting so dirty at school or not sucking his thumb anymore. It might be making a new friend or earning money to buy something special.

  2. Write the goal down and put a big circle by it. Periodically, as the goal is achieved, let the child fill in part of the circle. (When the goal is half completed, the circle will be half filled in.)

  3. Help the child develop a plan to meet his goal, such as asking the neighbors if they need work done, trying to zip his coat each night before he goes to bed, not kneeling down in the dirt, inviting a new child over to play, or putting his blanket away (the one he holds while sucking his thumb).

  4. Praise the setting of the goal, praise the plan, praise every step the child makes toward the goal. Always relate your praise (or your criticism) to what he has done, and not to him. Instead of calling a child a good boy or a bad boy, call the thing he's done a good thing or a bad thing. Thus you reestablish your love for him as unconditional, as something that does not fluctuate with his actions.

2. Organization and order

  1. Have a good set of shelves in a child's room. Help him organize his possessions, with a place for each item. Then give strong encouragement and praise as he keeps things in their places. The simple lessons of order in a child's life will go a long way in building the critical, later-life skill of organizing his thoughts and ideas.

3. Share some of your own goals with your children

  1. The fact that you are reading this book probably indicates that you have a goal of being a better parent. Why not share that goal with your children? Tell them that your goal is to be the best daddy or mommy, and that you need their help on your goal, that you want them to tell you how you can improve. (It's an interesting experience to have a four year old tell you you've got to stop getting mad at the lawn mower.) This process of asking will teach children, by example, that it is good to seek others' help, that asking for help is not weakness, but intelligence. Then, later on, they will ask you.

    Note:
    For additional methods and ideas, consider a ValuesParenting Membership.