At the start of every tutoring session or parent meeting I ask my clients: What are your goals for our time together? This helps set the tone, providing structure to what is often a difficult moment in time — the moment someone asks for help.
Goals versus Expectations
Setting goals is different than having expectations. Goals are specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Expectations, on the other hand, are the “I wish you could’s” and the “I want you to’s” of life. Most of us have those sore childhood memories where our parents wished we could just do this differently or wanted us to do something that way instead. That’s a lot of pressure on a kid! Of course, parents want only the best for their kids but when your best is not your child’s version of best, then there is a conflict.
Conflict comes in many forms and one of those is having unattainable expectations. You want your child to go to Harvard? Okay, let’s really think about this: (1) What does it take to get into an Ivy League school? , (2) Is this really the best school environment for my child?, (3) Am I helping my child become a life-long learner and not just creating a “teach to the test” kind of student?
Shoot for the stars, yes! But combat the pressure of high expectation with a loving dose of reality.
Set Daily Attainable, Specific Goals to Build Your Child’s Confidence & Productivity
Nothing gives a student a reality check like setting daily attainable, specific goals. Child-led goals work best because they learn to take ownership and responsibility for their own actions or inactions. A life lesson, for sure!
To do this effectively, start with two goals – both should be things they could slightly improve upon but for the most part got it already – and one challenge goal, something new or something they have wanted to try but keep putting it off.
If your child is on the younger side, a sticker chart visibly placed in their room or in a common area is helpful. Let them choose where they’d like to put it. Some kids prefer to be more private as they learn something new and aren’t quite ready to shout it out to the whole family. Immediate gratification (ie: small prizes) and verbal praise helps younger kids solidify their confidence and keep coming back to challenge themselves further. If your child is a little older, say a ‘tween’, have them keep their own self-created reflection chart privately where they can earn bigger prizes for things that take a week or two to accomplish.
Set specific goals, such as complete math homework between 4:30-5:15 or write one paragraph for your English paper before dinner. Goals are baby steps.
Goals can also encompass something that’s difficult outside of homework like social skills (ie: invite one new friend over for a play date this weekend) or trying a new food (ie: asparagus, yum!). Learning is not limited to just academics. We need to broaden our goals to challenges outside of the classroom too.
If It’s Just Not Working, Rework Your Thinking
Oftentimes, our goals may initially reflect our expectations, just worded in a different way. If that’s the case, take a step back and try to put yourself in your child’s shoes, making sure to consider your child’s learning style and whether we may be putting too much or not enough pressure on your child to perform up to a certain standard. Starting slow with clear, attainable goals is usually the best beta test.
The end goal is really to help our kids love learning. We can do this by helping them increase their confidence through small accomplishments, which leads to increased confidence when the work, and life, gets harder.
You’re right, those Harvard dreams could very well be in your child’s future. However, we want to make sure they enjoy the process of learning on their way to the big leagues.
Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.