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How to Set SMART Goals

We all know the importance of goal setting, but oftentimes, the goals we set don't fully pan out. Whether it's lack of time or motivation, setting up and following through with a goal is easier said than done. One main reason why goals don't stick is because they aren't "smart" enough. When we learn to create SMART goals, our chances of reaching our goals increase exponentially.

Teaching your children about SMART goals is the first step towards academic achievement. When children learn the growth mindset and create SMART goals, they will become motivated to learn and improve.

notebook with SMART goals written on it

So what exactly are SMART goals?

SMART goals are written in a way that allows your child to see exactly what they need to do to succeed in achieving it. Creating SMART goals allow your child to process their ideas clearly which will help them focus their time and stick to an action plan to increase their chance for success.

What does SMART stand for?

S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Let me explain and break each letter down.

S stands for Specific

When your child comes home from school, do you often ask, "How's school today?"

And their answer?


You get annoyed with this reply, but we need to realize that the culprit to this lackadaisical response is in the question itself. A vague questions brings out a vague answer. This is the same with goal setting. Vague goals don't bring out results.

"I want to do well in school" sounds like a great goal for your child, but it's not specific enough. A goal needs to be specific so that they know what to focus on. For example, what does your child want to do well in? What subject are we talking about? If it's in math, what area of math? And is it to improve on their understanding, their work habits, or meeting assignment deadlines?

Perhaps a better goal would be. "I want to be stronger at my multiplication skills so I can be more efficient and accurate on tests". A more specific goal will render results.

M stands for Measurable

Imagine running in a race without a finish line; how do we declare a winner? How do even end the race? It's impossible to achieve a goal when we don't have a way to gauge how we are doing. When we set a goal, there needs to be a way to measure and track progress. Whether it's quantitively (getting above 73% on the next test) or qualitatively (teacher didn't give you any homework warnings), there needs to be a benchmark to know how we are doing. A measurable goal also allows your child to also feel the excitement and anticipation of reaching their goal. So instead of saying, "I want to do well on my spelling test," tweak it to "I want to get less than 3 words wrong on my next spelling test."

A stands for Attainable

There's a difference between a dream and a SMART goal. Your 7 year old may want to be a professional soccer player and this is a great hope and dream, BUT that isn't a SMART goal because it's not possible to reach any time soon. It would take years and years of hard word and dedication to become pro, so in order to get there, we need to create a path to reach it. SMART goals help pave the way towards your child's bigger goals. Attainable goals help your child focus and appreciate the process which is key to fostering growth mindset. We want to set goals that are doable and within reach. To encourage your 7 year old's bigger goal of becoming a soccer player, a SMART goal can be to dribble the ball down the whole field without losing control of the ball or to cheer their teammates on at every game.

R stands for Relevant

The goals that are made need to be relevant to your child. Your older children should be setting their own goals. Your younger children will need more guidance from you, but ultimately the goal should be theirs, not yours. To self-motivate and create a drive to achieve, your child has to be in control of their learning. The goal has to matter to your child and align with what they are currently doing. The goal they make has to complement with the bigger picture of what they want to achieve and they need to see how and why this goal is set.

T stands for Time-bound

Goals need to have some sort of deadline so that they can focus and work towards it. Giving your child a little stress is good for the brain as it helps their prefrontal cortex and amygdala work together to handle their thinking and their emotions. Setting a time limit propels them to take action and be motivated to make progress to meet their goal. It's important to be realistic with setting a time that is not too far away yet not too close that it isn't attainable. For school-related goals, setting a time limit for the next project or test works well. For example, they can say "I want to be practice my multiplication skills so I can get over 80% on my next math test (which is in 2 weeks time)".

Goal setting notebook

Teaching your child about SMART goals strengthens their growth mindset and helps them stay committed to achieve success. Setting SMART goals helps keep their mind focused, and allows them to stay motivated by tracking progress within a time limit.

When creating SMART goals, help your child by asking them the following:


What exactly do I want to have accomplished?


How will I be able to measure that I have accomplished this?


Do I already have some skills that will help me get to the next step with this goal?


Why am I setting this goal?


Do I have a realistic deadline for my goal?

Start a conversation with your child today about SMART goals and encourage them to begin.

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