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Sample Family Night Lesson: Individual Goal Setting

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 true success.

Ideas for Preschoolers and Young Elementary Age:

Understanding the Concept of Goals. A three or four year old is capable of understanding the concept and nature of goals. Explain that a goal is “something good that we want and that we work for.” Read the following story. Then ask and teach: “What was Jason’s goal? (To get enough money to buy a two-wheeled bike.) What was his plan to reach his goal? (To grow and sell tomatoes.) How did he do it? (With hard work.)

“Jason and the Circus Money”

It was Saturday morning, and Jason was watching television. Between two shows there was a commercial about the circus. On the screen were elephants and dancing bears and clowns. A voice said, “The circus will be in your town in two weeks! Don’t miss it!”

Jason ran to tell his mother he couldn’t miss the circus. His mother said, “Jason, we’ve just spent a lot of money on your birthday. If you want to go to that circus, you’ll have to earn enough money to buy your own ticket.”

Jason thought hard about that – so hard that he didn’t even watch the rest of the television show. He looked under all the cushions on the couch and chairs and found two dimes. He went and asked his mother how much a ticket cost. She said, “Two dollars.” “How many dimes is that?” asked Jason. “Twenty,” said his mother. “As many as all of your fingers and all your toes.” “I’ve got two already.” Jason said, holding up his dimes. His mother smiled at him and took his hand. “Come with me,” she said.

Jason’s mother got a large sheet of paper and drew a big, king-size “20” on it. Then she made a long tube by the side with some marks on it.

The paper looked like this:
She colored in two squares in the tube with a red crayon, like this:

Thermometer Illustration Thermometer Illustration

Jason got the idea before she even told him. He said, “Every time I get another dime, I’ll color a square until I get up to twenty!” “Right,” said his mother, “and there are some old soda bottles in the basement that are worth ten cents each.”

Jason found three bottles in the basement. He put them in his red wagon and pulled them around the corner to the grocery store. He got three dimes and colored in three more squares.

“What now, Mom?” Jason said. “Well, I don’t know,” said his mother. “Can you think of any more ways to earn some more dimes?” Jason said, “More pop bottles.” His mother said, “Sorry, that’s all we have.” Jason said, “Maybe Mr. Johnson next door has some. I’ll go see.” Mr. Johnson didn’t have any old pop bottles, but he did have a backyard that needed cleaning, and he told Jason he would give him two dimes to do it. Jason did it.

Jason kept thinking of things. By Saturday, do you know what his chart looked like? That’s right, it was completely filled in – and it was a very good circus!

On the way home from the circus, Jason was thinking hard. He said, “Mom, do you think I could ever earn enough money to buy myself a two-wheeled bike?” “I think so,” said his mother, “but it would take a long time.”

That night his parents had a long talk – and got a good idea. The next morning Jason’s father said, “Jason, I think if I lent you two dollars to buy some tomato plants, you could raise some tomatoes in the garden this year. If you take good care of them and sell the tomatoes when they grow, you can get enough money to give me back my two dollars and to buy your very own bike.”

All summer Jason watered his plants and pulled the weeds out. When the tomatoes got red, he picked them and put them in a bucket; then he knocked on the neighbors’ doors. “Would you like to buy some tomatoes?” he said. “Only a nickel each.” Every day more tomatoes were red. Every day Jason sold them. By autumn Jason had sold all the tomatoes. He had enough money to pay his father the two dollars and also to buy one present for himself: a red bike, the same color as those tomatoes.

Ideas for Elementary Age:

Share Some of Your Goals with Your Children. The fact that you are holding Family Home Evenings 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. 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.

Tell the children about a specific goal you have set. It should be something they can see you working on and something they can see the results of.

Some suggestions are: lose five pounds, make some kitchen curtains, clean the carpets, learn to bake bread. Choose a goal you can reach. Tell the children what you will do and how you plan to reach your goal. Then show them the chart you will use to record your progress as you work on your goal and to show when you have achieved it.

Draw a circle on a piece of paper and divide it into eight pie-shaped wedges. With colored markers, show how you will fill in a portion of the circle (a different color each time) whenever you work on your goal. Then, when your reach your goal, the circle will be all filled in.

Then say, “Would you like to set a goal and work on it and have a goal chart to fill in like this? Think about what you might want for a goal – something good that you really want to do.”

If the children have ideas about goals right away, let them suggest them. You might make some suggestions also. If they say something like, “Learn to ride a bike,” say, “That’s a good goal, but it will take quite a long time. Let’s think of one you can do this week.”

“Sunday Sessions”. One father had this experience: “For many years I have had the habit of isolating one hour each Sunday to set goals and make plans for the week ahead. One week, my seven year old interrupted: ‘What are you doing in here, Daddy?’ I contained the ‘go back and play’ instinct and told her I was setting goals. ‘What are goals?’ I simplified: ‘Things you want to try really hard to do.’ ‘Can I have a goal?’ ‘Sure. What do you want to try hard to do?’ ‘Skip rope.’ ‘Okay, you sit here and draw a picture of yourself skipping rope. That will show your goal.’ It was the beginning of a tradition at our house. Every Sunday now, each family member over three either draws or writes his goal, putting a circle by it to color in when he meets the goal. We call this our “Sunday Session.” Then, the next night at dinner time, we take a moment to discuss the goals, to praise, to encourage, and to talk about how past goals have been met. A child’s Sunday Session time can also be an opportunity to think about the week ahead and to help him understand a calendar so he can look forward to events of the week and plan which days he will work on his goal. It is also a time when I can have a brief visit with each child as he tells me his goals and as I focus on him individually and make him feel important through my interest and my praise. The children have taken to using this weekly interview as a time to tell me of the private problems or worries they have.

Ideas for Young Adolescents:

Learn to Make Decisions in Advance. This is a way to assist teenagers in making correct choices clearly and objectively rather than emotionally and erratically. A great many undisciplined and disastrous teenage decisions are made on the spur of the moment, yet their results can last a lifetime. Help adolescents actually think through in advance some of the decisions you can predict they will have to make over the next few years. For example, think through with them (verbally) a situation in which they might feel considerable peer pressure to try drugs, to get drunk, to become sexually involved. Be specific in actually describing scenarios and ask them to be specific in mentally rehearsing exactly what they would say and do in those situations.

Suggest that your adolescent actually make a list (in a private place – perhaps in the back of his journal or diary) of the decision he has made in advance (e.g., not to do drugs or drink, not to become sexually involved, to finish high school and stay academically on course for college).

These advance decisions, thought through with your help and recorded with real intent in a teenage journal, can be remarkably effective safeguards and “route markers” for the right path of discipline and moderation.

Introduce a Simple Daily Planning System. This can help adolescents manage their time and energy – and also promote the development of spontaneity as a companion to goal setting. Try (for yourself) and teach your adolescent children the following basic daily planning system:

  1. At the top of a planning page list one single priority for the day for work (or school), one for family, and one for self.
  2. Then put a vertical line down the middle of the planning page, list the things you need to do that day (including the three priorities) by time (hour) on the left-hand side.

  3. Leave the right-hand side of the page blank – then watch for spontaneous or serendipitous things (unplanned happy accidents) that are better or more worthwhile than some of what is on your list. Try to meet the three priorities and to do at least one or two spontaneous things each day.

Try this system together for a week or two. Then discuss your individual results in a family discussion.

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