Photo by Pavel Danilyuk via Pexels

Teaching children to set healthy goals can not only help them take responsibility, but it also helps foster a positive “can-do” attitude.

Dr. Catherine Tart, pediatrician at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, highlighted the importance of teaching kids about setting goals in a positive way. Tart explained the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound) goal method and more.

Why is setting goals good for kids?

I think it’s super important to set healthy goals. Allowing them to learn how to do that, so they can set themselves up for healthy behaviors that will carry them into adulthood, to prevent chronic illnesses and diseases down the line, and keep them healthy.

How old should kids be when parents start encouraging goal-setting?

Even as young as the elementary school years. I think it’s OK for parents to guide it for them. Younger kiddos definitely need some parental settings. I think it’s good for parents to show them what (it) looks like to (set a) healthy goal. It’s making it more of a family group goal early on. And then, as they head into middle school and high school, they focus a little bit more on individual goal setting. It’s allowing them a little bit more independence, and what it looks like for them to be setting healthy goals.

What are some examples of healthy goals for kids?

I always had my kids focus on adding good things into their lives — adding more vegetables, adding more exercise, and focusing on adding good things. Examples of good goals for a family would be (setting) a goal of having two home-cooked meals per week. As they progress in doing that, maybe when they reach that goal, the reward is an excellent family activity they do together or something that they’ve been looking forward to for a while.

As far as teenagers go, focusing on maybe three to four days of exercise a week, and progressing from there. If it’s easy for them to hit three to four days of exercise out of the week, maybe increase to five days of exercise per week. Focus on the SMART goal. Make sure that an achievable goal they’re setting is realistic and time-bound. I usually don’t recommend more than a month, because I think if you go beyond a month, we tend to forget what we’re doing.

Why is it important to start setting healthy goals at a young age?

Especially with goal-setting, I think it can be good to have those early examples so that it becomes even easier for you as you grow up and enter adulthood.

How can parents support their kids?

I think brainstorming together as a family is always a good idea, because it allows kids to put in their own input for what they would like their goal to be. With kids entering the teen years, I think parents should be there for support, to remind them gently every once in a while of the goals they’ve set, and making sure they’re realistic and time-bound.

What about kids who aren’t on board?

With kiddos that aren’t interested, it can be helpful for parents to have a conversation with their pediatrician at their regular checkup about their lifestyle if it’s not super healthy, whether they’re eating a lot of junk food, or having a sedentary lifestyle. It can be helpful to bring it up with their pediatrician, because then they can talk to them about what the potential consequences of not eating healthy or not exercising might look like down the line … to give them a little bit of motivation.

Recommended for you