What if my child has no goals? They just say “IDK”!

November 14, 2021

Most parents want their kids to be able to set their own goals – something realistic, yet challenging; just enough to push them to reach new heights… You dream of a self-motivated student who plans their self-revision to meet their self-determined goals…

Ahh… It’s nice to imagine, isn’t it? But that vision seems more like a fantasy than a reality for many parents, who struggle to inspire and motivate their kids to aim higher.

In today’s blog post, we’re going to share about goals!

Tip 1: Nurture your child’s ability to set goals

The saying goes: “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

Similarly, if you simply force a goal (e.g. a target score) upon your child, you might be able to push them to reach your expectations. However, if you teach them how to set and adjust their own goals, you’re empowering them to take charge of their own education in the long-run

What does it look like to empower your child to set their own goals? The first step is to follow the lead of their interests. If your child is interested in playing the piano, try to get them to set goals related to improving their musical ability; if your child loves Fortnite, ask them what skills they want to develop to become a better Fortnite player! By asking questions that break down interests into learnable skills, you’ll create a mindset shift for your child, changing casual hobbies or interests into goals that they can work towards. 

At this point, some parents will cry out, “my child has no interests! I can’t follow any lead!”. Or, you might be thinking, “I don’t want my child’s goal to be about their computer games! I want them to develop goals that enrich them as a person!” While it’s good to start with something your child is already interested in (it shows your child that you care about their interests, and can be very affirming for them), you can also expose your child to meaningful activities that can be the seed for new interests and goals in the future. Why not try volunteering, which can teach kids about social needs and instil a sense of purpose? (We’ve linked a website which showcases Singaporean volunteering opportunities.)

Ultimately, instead of thinking of goal-setting as an innate character trait (i.e. “My child isn’t the goal-setting type, they are quite carefree and lazy”), reframe goal-setting as a skill that is cultivated over time. Like any other skill, goal-setting takes time, practice, and making mistakes to master. If you haven’t mastered any skill, you just haven’t mastered it yet. If your child doesn’t set realistic goals, it just means they don’t set realistic goals yet!

How, then, do you teach your child to set realistic goals? The trick is to ask questions that help them refine their goals. That way, you’ll let them realise that their goals are unrealistic, and teach them how to refine their goals by themselves in the future.

Here are some questions that you can consider asking, when your child tells you an unrealistic goal:

You might even be surprised at how well-thought-out some of your kids’ goals are! 😉

Tip 2: Set bite-sized goals along the way

If your ultimate goal is to go to a certain school or achieve a certain PSLE score by the end of the year, there are lots of mini-goals that you and your child can set along the way! 

For example, your child might have the goal of mastering a certain type of Math question by the end of this term. Meanwhile, another child might have the goal of being able to spell and use 10 new adjectives by the end of this month. 

Step-by-step goals such as these create manageable challenges for your child to rise to, within imaginable periods of time. When these goals are achieved, they provide small wins for your child, allowing them to feel a sense of continual progress! When they’re missed, they create meaningful opportunities for feedback and improvement, where the stakes are not enormously high.

Take a look at this example to learn how you can break down big goals into mini-goals:

Tip 3: Help your child put clues together to form a goal

It’s 100% normal if your child doesn’t have an idea of what secondary school they want to go to, or what score they should aim for in each subject.

The good news is there are clues all around that you and your child can use to create goals! The clues may come in the form of your observations, or from what your kids tell you in conversation. 

Here are some observations you might have already had, without realising they are clues! 

This is a process that you and your child should embark on together. In fact, having this conversation with them about turning observations into mini-goals is exactly how you can model the skill of goal-setting with them!

With major exams like PSLE looming ahead, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all of your child’s education has to be for that one purpose!

Parents, here’s a gentle reminder to take a step back and look at the big picture. Having goals is about more than doing well in one exam; setting goals and being able to adjust along the way is a life-long skill that you can start building with your kids today.

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