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“People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.”  – Earl Nightingale

How do we set goals for kids? As adults, we know how important goal setting is. Setting the right goals early can help us develop the right discipline and attitude to be more successful and happy in life.

However, when it comes to teaching kids about goals and how to set them, things can get kind of tricky.

Afterall, if you were to ask your primary school children about their goals and dreams, they’ll probably grin and tell that their life goal is to play all day and not do any homework, which is not surprising given how young they are.

Is this the right time to talk about goals with them then?

Set Goals for Kids

Why is it important to set goals for children?

Many studies have shown that children who have goals – whether academic or personal ones – will do better in life than children without. When your child has something to work towards, it helps to keep them focused and they stay motivated on a regular basis.

Hence, it’s good to help them learn how to set goals at an early age. These goals that you set with your child will also be useful in communicating your expectations of them in terms of personal character or studies. Once they understand that, your child will have a checklist for their actions and learning and be more responsible as a result. This helps them build their confidence and self-esteem over time as well.

Now that we know why it is crucial for us as parents to set goals for our child, let’s learn about the right kind of goals to set.

What types of goals should I set for my primary school kid?

When it comes to goal-setting for our child, we’ll want to think about it in the two main areas – academic and habitual.

Let’s talk about academic goals first.

1. Academic Goals

Academic goals are essential for your child to make progress in school.

Instead of setting targets for your child to win their friends in terms of their exam results and promoting unhealthy competition, you want to set goals for your child to focus on their personal growth. The main aim here is to provide your child with a clear direction of what is achievable within their means and for them to challenge their own ability.

Depending on your expectations of your child, here are a few examples of the kind of goals you can set with them:

  • Get at least 90% or more on their holistic tests
  • Achieve 1 grade more than what they got last year
  • Improve by 5 more marks for their next test

By having these goals, your child can then reflect on their effort and performance when they get feedback from any test or exam and adjust their actions accordingly.

Then, let’s look at the next kind of goal – habitual goals.

2. Habitual Goals

Unlike academic goals which focus on studies, habitual goals focus more on building the right habits and routines, helping develop your child’s discipline, attitude and character in the long run.

What kind of adult do you want your child to be when they grow up?

Think about the kind of life skills that you’ll want your child to have in future. Then, observe their current habits and make a mental note of what you’ll like to see improvement over time.

For example, if your child seems to be struggling with being organised, a simple goal that you can set with them is for them to tidy up their study table whenever they are done with their homework or revision. If your child is struggling with patience, you can help them build a habit of spending their time productively while waiting and measure the results over time.

Such habits will indirectly support their academic goals too. For example, if your child has a goal of practising their multiplication table for 10 minutes a day, they will end up having the discipline of daily revision and also improve the accuracy of their calculation when they are doing their math homework.

If you need some more ideas of the kind of habitual goals to set, here’s a list:

  • Show gratitude to others by always saying “Thank You”
  • Show perseverance whenever you get stuck at a homework question
  • Be helpful in the family by helping with simple household chores

Academic goals and habitual goals, these are the ingredients to nurturing a happy and successful child.

Then comes the million dollar question, how do you actually do it? The benefits of setting goals sounds great, but how do you make sure that your child will follow through?

That brings us to the next part.

5 golden rules to set goals that works for your child

1. The goals have to be decided between you and your child

Ever heard of this saying “It takes both hands to clap”?

For goal setting to work, you need your child to want to achieve the same them. That comes with lots of communication.

Try asking your child what they want to achieve and hear them out before sharing your thoughts. This will make them feel respected and more willing to accept what you propose instead of feeling like they are forced to agree to what you have decided.

The best kind of goals are usually those that you and your child compromised on. When your child feels involved in the decision making process, they are more likely to work towards them due to the partial ownership.

2. Explain the purpose of the goals in your child’s language

If something seems useless to you, would you spend time to achieve it?

Children are not adults. Hence, they may not be convinced that good grades will get them good jobs in future even though you tell them that. However, they are willing to get good grades if this means lesser work and more play time as a result.

When you set goals for kids, be sure to explain the purpose of the goals and also motivate them with what’s in it for them. This usually works for young children because they are working for what they want now and they are more likely to persist even when the going gets tough.

3. Be as clear as possible when communicating

When it comes to setting goals for your kids, children can’t really picture abstract goals.

When you tell them “to do better next time”, your definition of “better” might be very different from what they are thinking.

Instead of giving vague remarks, phrase your expectations in a more concrete manner so that your child knows what they should work towards. For example, you could say “Let’s get another 5 more marks in your test next time.” or “Let’s put your books to where they belong.” to specify what they should do.

When you give explicit feedback, it is easier for your child to know what to expect and the right actions to take.

4. Set simple goals for your kids

No one climbs Mount Everest in a day.

If you want your child to achieve a goal, make it as simple as possible so that your child feels that it’s a manageable one.

For example, if you want your child to get ace their math exam and you know that they are struggling with problem sums, break it down into baby steps.

You can start by setting a goal for your child to solve every word problem in the paper without leaving any blanks, or you could ask them to not make any careless mistakes in their calculations. Once they have achieved these goals, you can then tweak them accordingly.

When you turn a huge goal into easier, smaller goals, it becomes less daunting for your child. This increases the chances of them being more willing to try and it also helps to build their confidence step by step over time.

math learning

5. Review, Reflect & Reward

The last rule in helping set goals for kids is the most important one, remember the 3 ‘R’s – review, reflect and reward.

After setting your goals with your child, write them on paper and set intervals to review them.

The goals you set together are there to guide you towards the right direction. Therefore, reviewing them on a regular basis will help your child understand their progress and adjust accordingly.

When it’s time to review your goals, help them reflect on their goals by thinking about what they did right and what they could have done better.

If they have achieved the goals that you’ve set, be generous with your praise or reward them. If they were not able to reach their goals, talk to them about the difficulties that they face and how they can overcome them.

Feel free to rewrite the goals that you have set to make it more achievable if necessary and encourage your child hit their targets the next round.


Goal setting is a valuable life skill to have. Now that you know what kind of goals to set for your primary school child and how to set them, it’s up to you as a parent to teach them this lifelong skill and get them motivated to succeed. Feel free to share your experiences with us and let us know how it went for you.


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