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Teaching kids to plan & take action toward their personal goals

by Mary Mazzoni on August 4, 2012

At our state’s transition conference – a mom told us about a simple question she asks her daughter every so often:

“Is there anything about your life you want to change?”  

(Isn’t that a terrific question?)

Successful adults regularly reflect on their lives and ask themselves what’s most important to them.

This mom is giving her daughter lots of guided practice with this kind of reflection.

Chances are, her daughter may make this question a life-long habit. How cool is that?

And – every time our child identifies a personal goal – we have a chance to teach them how to plan and take action.

Let’s look at a few tools and strategies that can help.

What research says

Research shows that we are significantly more likely to achieve a goal when we do all of the following:

  • Write the goal down
  • Plan specific action steps
  • Tell someone about our goal and our plan
  • Report our progress regularly to someone we trust

When kids have guided practice in this process during childhood and adolescence, they can develop healthy lifelong goal setting and action planning habits.

Remember, the idea is for this to be a positive process that supports and empowers our kids to reach personal goals that are important to them.

Start small

Start with short term goals (that take a few days to a week to achieve) so your child experiences some success before moving on to more challenging long-term goals.

For example – your child’s long term goal might be to qualify for the high school bowling team next year.

The first short term goal might be planning a trip to the bowling alley this Saturday.

Action steps might include saving allowance money, arranging transportation, calling a friend to come along, etc.

The following week, a new action plan may include another trip to the bowling alley – improving his score by a few points.

The idea here is to have success using the action plan for small weekly goals that lead to bigger long term goals.

Informed decision making

Over time, our child’s long-term goals may change, based on experience.

For example – after volunteering at a hospital as a teen, I decided I no longer wanted to become a nurse.

Your child may find out, after several weeks of practice, that he loves bowling more than ever, and that he wants to join the youth league at the local lanes.  Or he may discover that he’s sick of spending his allowance on bowling every week and wants to save for roller blades instead.

This is called informed decision making – and we want to encourage our kids to revise their goals based upon the information they learn along the way.

During adolescence – it may be especially helpful for a trusted adult mentor to support our child in this process. Teens benefit greatly from relationships with adult mentors. Is there a trusted adult in your child’s life (an aunt or uncle, someone from church or scouts) that could meet briefly every week or so with your child to help him plan action toward his goals?

(Don’t get me wrong here – it will be powerful for you and your child to engage in this kind of goal setting and action planning process together – whether or not a mentor is also involved in your child’s life).

The power of graphic organizers

Graphic organizers help us structure our thoughts and actions.

Rather than starting with a blank paper, a consistently used form that includes each of the desired steps, can be an effective way to teach our kids a multi-step goal setting and action planning process. The more (positive, successful) practice our child has using the form, the more likely these steps will become habit.

Let’s look at a variety of graphic organizer formats for goal setting and action planning. Some of the formats include color and pictures, others are all-text and black and white. Some include more steps than others. Which format will work best for your child?

 Action planning chart (detailed, b/w, no pictures)

This chart is best used by those with reading skills who do not need picture cues. The chart supports the following steps:

  • name the goal
  • identify the steps
  • set “do-by” dates for each step
  • name supports needed
  • review progress

You’ll notice that this format includes both a long and a short term goal. The action steps are for the short term goal.

Start by action planning for just one short term goal at a time.

Think-Plan-Do (simple, b/w, no pictures)

This is a much simpler graphic organizer to plan for short term goals.

It’s basically a checklist format that names the goals and steps.

Click here for a post that links to the graphic organizer and explains how to teach the Think-Plan-Do process.

 Think-Plan-Do (simple, color, with pictures)

This graphic organizer may be more engaging for some kids – especially those with limited reading skills.

Developed by the California Department of Developmental Services Consumer Advisory Committee, it uses color, simple language and pictures.

There are also accompanying videos that demonstrate the Think-Plan-Do process.

Click here to download the Think-Plan-Do graphic organizer (which is part of a 6 page planning guide that refers to the people in the video clips).

Click here to access videos that show adults with developmental disabilities using the Think-Plan-Do process to make decisions and plan steps toward their goals.

My Choice, My Future (color, with pictures, longer term goals)

These materials are also developed by the Consumer Advisory Committee of the California Department of Developmental Services. Similar graphics are used.

The difference with My Choice, My Future, is that various domains of life are addressed and the person is asked to consider longer term goals.

Sometimes kids complete My Choice, My Future several weeks before an IEP meeting, and share it with other team members as a way to have a voice in their transition plan.

Click here to download the 6 page My Choice, My Plan booklet.

Your turn

Is it time to begin supporting your child to plan for his personal goals? Which graphic organizer would work best? Do you have any thoughts or questions about goal setting and action planning?

Please leave a comment below, we’d love to hear from you. Or send me an email.

If you found this post helpful, please share it. Thanks!

Photo credit: modenadude at Flickr

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