How Parents Can Help Students Set—and Achieve—Academic Goals

This post is part of a month-long series to help you start 2018 on the right foot. Throughout January, visit the Varsity Tutors blog for advice, tips, and tricks on how to reignite your passion for learning this winter.

As we enter a new year, many parents, students, and families are focusing on setting goals. For students of all ages, these may center around academics. And while it can be easy for parents of elementary and middle school students to overlook their role in helping their children identify and accomplish goals, parental involvement can have a significant impact on the outcome.

Among other tasks, parents can provide background and context for goals, and emphasize the importance of reflection. If you’re hoping to take an active role in your child’s goal-setting process, learn how parents can help students set—and achieve—academic goals.

Goal-setting tip #1: Focus on collaboration

When setting goals, collaboration serves as a vital tool for parents and students. Parents can—and should—view their role as integral to their child’s goal-setting process, but their child should take the lead.

When setting goals, speak with your child about his or her aims. Make time, too, for follow-up discussions as he or she works toward these goals.

[RELATED: How Parents Can Help with Elementary Homework Challenges]

Goal-setting tip #2: Provide context, and establish reasonable expectations  

As your student begins to set goals, you can help by establishing your starting point. This can help children of all ages identify realistic goals. Establish where your student is coming from in order to determine where he or she might be going. Don’t limit your student’s dreams—just  shape them into measurable steps.

For example, if your child hopes to earn straight As, but, in previous semesters, failed multiple classes because of late work, this goal may not be an ideal place to start. Instead, you may want to suggest a simpler goal like, “I will turn all work in on time,” which is measurable, achievable, and will help with his or her eventual desire to earn all As.

Think about dividing goals into short-term and long-term endeavors based on your student’s starting point, which will help with the next recommendation.

[RELATED: 3 Methods for Setting Goals]

Goal-setting tip #3: Identify and track milestones

Goal-setting at any age works best when you can measure progress. For younger students, it can be challenging to think about goals in such a concrete way. Often, goal-setters look at large-scale items that are not only difficult to achieve, but difficult to measure as they progress.

Instead of setting a goal like, “Be the best speaker on the debate team,” encourage your student to narrow his or her focus. For instance, he may set a goal to participate in three speech events, or she may set a goal to identify three public speaking role models. Both of these goals help your child work toward becoming a better speaker, but both have concrete ways to measure success.

Continue to meet with your student to check in on progress, gently suggesting ways to get back on track or providing encouragement where it is needed. Set new ways to measure achievement if necessary, and adjust expectations as required.

Goal-setting tip #4: Provide time for reflection

Once the timeframe for the goal in question has passed, it is important to revisit the process with your child. This involves more than deciding whether or not he or she achieved the goal. Decide what went well, where your student struggled, and where he or she felt successful. Ask your child to identify where and how he or she could have used additional support from you or others.

Finally, make a plan for achieving the next goal, whether it is a new goal or a variation on one that wasn’t quite achieved the first time around. By collaborating, understanding the starting point, tracking milestones, and evaluating the process, your student will be equipped to set and achieve goals in no time!

[RELATED: The Importance of Self-Reflection: How to End the Year on a Positive Note]


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