Goal setting for kids—Importance & motivational examples

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Growing up and going through the motions of school and learning, it’s difficult for some kids to realize the endgame. 

Or, said differently, it’s difficult for some kids to realize that the endgame is more than next week’s exam, or their final year’s grades. 

Instilling a more forward-thinking mindset comes in phases—first, kids need to grasp and understand that they won’t always be kids, that they won’t always be in school, and that they won’t always be told what to do. 

On the flip side, they need to understand that they will be adults out in the real-world one day, and that comes with both the freedom and the responsibility to fend for themselves. 

Then, once that light bulb is illuminated, it’s time to connect the dots—how is their math course going to make them successful as an adult? What are they not learning in school now that they should be learning in order to achieve what they want to achieve?

Which leads us to goal setting, and the idea that mastery is achieved through progression, or a series of smaller steps that lead to ultimate destiny. 

Importance of goal setting for kids

First and foremost, setting goals is important for kids because it establishes a sense of purpose for their actions. 

Realistic, meaningful goals have plenty of other benefits too. They help with decision making, improve self-confidence and independence, and teach perseverance alongside countless other positive impacts. 

For example, if kids set a long term goal of being a professional coder, they now have a reason to act, perform, and achieve. And, importantly, they now know they need to set the smaller stepping stone goals in order to get there.

Those smaller goals might include going to college, which requires good grades, which is driven by completing homework, which is fueled by studying, which is aided by extracurriculars, and on and on. 

Without the goal, though, there is no purpose, and homework is just done because it’s required by a teacher, and extracurriculars aren’t even considered, because to them, their free time is better spent playing video games. 

See what we’re getting at here? The power of goals can hardly be underestimated, and there’s no time like the present to get started.

Goal-setting activities

So, how do you get started setting goals for your children? 

It really depends on the ages you're working with. For kids, you’re probably going to need to start with the basics - what is a goal, etc. - and work your way towards larger milestones. 

Teens on the other hand will already have a general understanding of what goals are, and thus might better respond to starting with the larger goal and working backwards. Either way, here are a few goal-setting activities to consider. 

Goal-setting activities for young kids

Goal Ladder 

Abstract concepts like goal setting can be challenging for youngsters to understand, and this handy ladder activity is a great way to help! 

By using the visual of stairs building towards something, little ones can grasp the concept of taking small steps to achieve a larger goal. 

Consider making goal ladders together and agreeing on incremental rewards as you work towards them. Positive reinforcement is a great way to encourage the goal-setting process and establish good habits early on in your child’s life. 

Three Stars and a Wish 

This activity is a wonderful introduction to goal setting for young kids. Start by picking a category like “math” or “soccer,” and list 3 “stars,” areas of strength, and one “wish,” area for improvement.  

Not only is it easy to model before asking your little one to give it a try, it reinforces the role of confidence and self-awareness in goal setting. 

These two components are critical at any age and infuse a “I can do this!” mindset to setting goals of any size. This activity could work as a car-ride discussion or full-blown art project and is easy to customize for your child. 

Goal-setting activities for teens

Mind Map or Vision Board Brainstorm 

As we all know, teens appreciate a higher degree of choice and freedom, so why not infuse those elements into a goal-setting activity?

Both of these formats are relatively simple but can answer a vast range of questions surrounding what kids enjoy, admire, or want out of life. A mind map or vision board helps visually represent the answers to those important questions. 

Mind-mapping is a generative exercise that can appeal to the more logically-minded, while crafting a vision board can kickstart a creative disposition. Especially if online learning has your teen in somewhat of a rut, either of these activities can help them re-energize and give new meaning to the phrase #goals kids these days are using anyway. 

SMART Goals

You probably saw this one coming, but it’s a classic for good reason! As I mentioned earlier, the concept of goal setting won’t be new to most teens, but odds are they could use a little support in crafting goals that are realistic. 

The SMART Goals framework does exactly that by pushing kids to think about what’s attainable - a realistic framework for following through - plus a timeline to make sure it happens. This is an involved process that requires focus and dedication, both of which are excellent life habits, so make sure to encourage and positively reinforce your teen along the way! 

Goal-Setting Prompts

Talk with your teen about what they want to accomplish. Not only will they appreciate you helping them have a voice in setting their goals, they will have more intrinsic motivation to complete them because they get a say. 

From saving money, to having the best senior year ever, to just getting through a challenging week at school, these prompts are a great starting point to pick and choose something meaningful for your child. 

Goal-setting activities for the whole family

Family Bucket List 

This fun activity can really get your family thinking about what they would like to do this year, this month, or even this week! Plus, we all know that day to day life requires a little extra thought and planning these days, and this can put a fun spin on things. 

After brainstorming activities you’d like to do, places to see, or projects that need doing around the house, get to work in accomplishing your customized “bucket” list as a family. 

Dinner Table Heroes 

When questions like “how was your day?” are met with shrugs or monosyllables, it’s time to shake up dinner table, carpool, or just-because conversations. 

Challenge your family to think of someone they truly admire: a public figure, athlete, friend—anyone who they could speak about for 10 minutes or so. Then, have a round table discussion of how that person got to where they are today, or what it took for them to achieve a notable accomplishment. 

Motivational examples

You might be wondering, what qualifies me as someone to talk goals with? Glad you asked!

We see tens of thousands of students go through our programs here at iD Tech on a yearly basis. Some come in with advanced skills and knowledge, while others are starting their learning journeys from scratch. 

With such a range of learning paths, we see countless examples of progression. We see students who got their start with one of our coding classes for kids and go on to code professionally, plus those who have gone to YouTube camp and are now living their life’s dream as a content creator. 

Anyway, I bring it up because one great way of helping kids and teens with their goal setting is to show them that success can be achieved via real-life examples. While big, grand goals might seem distant or unattainable, people are accomplishing things every single day, and each one of them started from square one. 

Here are a few examples from our L10 Index—a list of students who have attained a status that only 0.1% of iD Tech alumni achieve, by completing iD Tech online and on-campus programs, and proving their dedication and technical mastery while demonstrating outstanding soft skills including teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership

Ashley J.

Chicago, IL, United States | (Aspiring) George Washington University, Cybersecurity 

Ashley took her first iD Tech course in 7th grade and has been hooked on programming since! Combining her obsession of puzzles and ciphers with her love of programming, Ashley plans on pursuing a BA in Computer Science and a Master’s in Cybersecurity. 

Ashley largely credits iD Tech for her knowledge in multiple programming languages including Python, Java, and C++, concepts such as machine learning and cybersecurity, as well as setting a solid foundation to explore the world of programming on her own. 

When she isn’t programming, Ashley is president of her school’s Adventure Games Club, which plays tabletop games such as Dungeons & Dragons; Ashley can also be found sketching and painting, reading, or practicing for her next Science Olympiad or Math Modeling tournament. 

Related: check out our full list of STEM competitions

A previous summer IT intern at her high school, Ashley would like to continue to work in the tech field, aiming for a career in forensic computer analysis, security analysis, or cryptanalysis.

Neev L.

Pittsburgh, PA, United States | (Aspiring) Stanford University, Engineering

Neev has been a part of iD Tech programs for six years now, including AcademyNEXT, and credits these experiences for establishing a solid foundation in various programming languages, including Python and C++, and complex topics involving machine learning and AI. He plans to study engineering or computer science in college.

Neev is also a member of the Pittsburgh Youth Concert Orchestra (PYCO) which is a music-centered honor orchestra. As a cello player, he has been involved in playing challenging pieces throughout high school. 

Last summer, Neev volunteered as a coding teacher at a local organization known as Steel City Codes. Because of his experiences with iD Tech, he was able to act as a teacher and educate younger students on the basics of the Python language. 

Related: check out our guide on Python for kids

In the future Neev hopes to join iD Tech as an instructor to give back to other students.

Brijae B.

Livermore, CA, United States | (Aspiring) Las Positas College, Software Engineering

Always one to rotate between activities while constantly finding new interests, Brijae has been involved in a plethora of extracurriculars including, but not limited to, theatre, robotics, orchestra, choir, photography, and yearbook. 

Brijae's time at iD Tech allowed her to experiment in multiple fields of STEM where she's studied C++, Java, Python, Web and App Development, Photography, and emerging technologies in the inaugural year at AcademyNEXT. 

After seven years of iD Tech, she went on to major in computer studies and hopes to have her degree in Computer Science by 2024. Brijae credits the time she spent at iD Tech with building confidence in tackling various fields in technology. 

Whether it is computer engineering, software engineering, game design, or robotics, she is grateful she got to experiment in an environment that was fun yet challenging, welcoming, and encouraging to those with curious minds.

Goal setting has never been more important

Like most things this year, even the most basic and everyday actions like going back to school have never been more challenging.

Some kids are just going through the motions. Others are struggling to keep up with their virtual curriculum. Many are sick of being muted and having their creativity stifled. 

Thus, goal setting is now needed more than ever, and really, it might start with overcoming back to school burnout.

Once that piece is under control, give your kids something to shoot for—establish purpose and get them excited about what’s waiting for them down the road. 

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!