How Parents Can Challenge Their Children with Stretch Goals

by ParentCo. February 10, 2017

tensed little boy pushing his lower lip with finger

I love challenging my kids to do better and be better. I do it all the time. I think part of me has developed it into a little mental game, a satisfying mom challenge. For those of you that work in the corporate world, I bet you already have an idea of what I am talking about. For those that don’t, let me explain: A stretch goal is a goal that pushes you beyond your current capabilities. Let’s say that you are achieving a certain amount of sales today, so you set a future goal to achieve the same amount of sales plus an average growth percentage. To “stretch yourself,” you could add an additional percentage on top of that sales goal that you would only be able to achieve if you put extra effort into it. Your kids need this too. And as their parent, you get the job of setting their goals. Step 1 – Figure out what your kids are capable of today. What are their skills? What can they do or not do? How well do they do certain tasks? Can they stay focused? Can they improve fine or gross motor skills? Step 2 – Set the goal. What is the most important thing for them to work on? What can they improve on that would get them to the next stage? Step 3 – Help them rise to the challenge. Set up scenarios where they can improve and assist them in applying extra effort to achieve it. One important note: Be careful not to make the goal so difficult that it is unattainable. The best goals for children are just beyond their current skills, but not so hard that they become frustrated or defeated. Here is how I do it with my kids:

The Toddler Boy

I have so many goals for the little man. He has been very slow to communicate verbally. The way I stretch him with regard to speaking is by insisting that he verbalize what he wants. This takes an incredible amount of patience and time on my part (he’s quite stubborn), but my insistence has paid off in that he has improved dramatically in the last couple of months. Another area I like to stretch him in is his patience. If you have toddlers, you know they are limited in their ability to wait for something they want and find it hard to sit without being entertained. In the past, I used to allow him to get down from the dinner table as soon as he was done eating. Now, I ask him to sit with us while we finish dinner together as a family. This is especially good for him to learn to sit for longer periods, as well as exposing him to our verbal conversation and interactions.

The Preschool Girl

Our 4-year-old girl is quite a handful. Super smart and super challenging, she is quick to react emotionally when things don’t go according to her plan. I am working with her to improve her ability to handle disappointment or plan changes. When I have to say ‘no’ to her, I really try to slow down the process and work her through it gently. It helps to identify her typical triggers (watching TV or eating sweets) and to be proactive when I know I’m going to have to say ‘no.’ After I make my stand, I wait. I watch the clouds roll in. I gently offer an alternative or remind her that I’ve already allowed her to watch a couple of episodes and we can watch more tomorrow. We also discuss that it’s not good for the brain to watch too much television (this gives her the underlying logic). I can really tell this approach is working when I hear her work through some disagreements with her babysitter, who can be a little less patient. And honestly, I don’t jump in because I want to stretch her ability to handle direction from multiple people with a range of different styles.

The Teen Girl

Whew, teens. Our 13-year-old daughter has decided she’s basically a grown up until she needs something from us. We have very little influence over her these days, so stretch goals are a great way to help in a not so obvious way. One thing my husband and I noticed is that she’ll come home and vent a problem to us and then be really frustrated when we offer our advice or opinion. We stretch her by reminding her that our intention is to be helpful. We wait for her to calm down and get herself into a more receptive mindset. This has really been helpful in encouraging her to continue to share with us and allow us to help her problem solve. We are also working with her on increasing her motivation. We haven’t found that magic button of what really fires her up but we are working on it. We’ve helped her to identify some of her interests and encouraged her to set some stretch goals for herself. She has several entrepreneurial ideas already and recently took the initiative to start a teen fashion Instagram account. Kids will improve naturally; it is part of the process of growing up. But I like the idea of providing a little more direction. By setting stretch goals for your kids and maybe even a goal or two for yourself as a parent, you can steer the family ship toward measurable improvements.



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