It’s that time of the year again… we’ve had the final bank holiday before Christmas, day break is no longer as early as 4 or 5 am, the sun is now setting earlier and to top it all the school run has begun with packed, trains, buses and traffic jams in the package!
Did that make you sigh? Not to worry, you’re not alone, it is normal to feel that way particularly after a laid-back indulgent summer break however it’s not all doom and gloom and there’s a lot to look forward to.
September starts the new school year and it is a time of new beginnings. It is an exciting (sometimes anxious) time for children and even their parents particularly when they are:
- Starting formal school for the first time – mainly reception year pupils
- Starting a new school – most Year 7 pupils and some A-level students
- Leaving home for the first time to go to university
Nevertheless the start of autumn provides an opportunity for a fresh start. Even if the last academic year was brilliant, there are always things that can be improved upon, so rather than be gloomy about the change in season or anxious about the new school, it is time to see the bright side and motivate your child for success by working with him/her to set goals for the new academic year.
Let us explore some tips for setting goals that will motivate our children to fulfill their potential:
Set the Scene – as the school year starts, have a conversation with your child to:
- Review the last academic year;
- Praise him/her for the great things accomplished so far; and
- Set the expectations for the new academic session.
Clarity – you both have to be clear about what needs to be achieved. Goals and the words used to define them need to be age-appropriate i.e. your child needs to understand at their level what is expected.
What does good look like? Provide examples of what you expect; in 1 & 2 from the list of examples below, it is necessary to clarify what on time means and what a high standard means.
Positive – focus and language of the goals should be on what is to be achieved not what is wrong.
Achievable but fairly challenging – growth thrives when there is a stretch.
Use the opportunity of the goal-setting exercise to target the areas requiring improvement
To illustrate, here is a sample list of goals for a secondary school pupil:
- All homework will be completed on time
- All homework will be completed to a high standard
- Arrive at school and for every lesson on time
- Take responsibility for my own actions / behaviour
- Achieve xxx minutes / hours of uninterrupted study time every day
Rewards are a means of motivation but they should be used judiciously otherwise the process could backfire and become counter-productive.
Proportionality: rewards should match the achievements – do not over or under reward. Something your child does not value will not motivate him/her; at the same time it would probably be unwise to promise a trip to Disney for routine achievements.
Be reliable: do not change your mind or try to reduce the reward after your child has fulfilled his/her own side of the bargain. Also only make promises that you cannot deliver on.
Be strategic: reserve rewards for things that are genuinely more challenging not haphazardly else you will be setting wrong expectations and your child may not want to do anything unless there is a reward.
Clarity: avoid ambiguity as this could lead to a break down in trust. Clearly define the reward upfront and what needs to be done to merit it. Any reward system has to be clear not convoluted. Here are some examples:
- Each day of completing homework to a high standard on time merits 1 point.
- 20 points equate to a trip to MacDonald’s or an hour on video games
Be fair: avoid blanket punishments that eliminate all accumulated rewards, it can be totally demoralizing and counter productive.
What gets measured gets done…
Quality time – spend time with your child and make the time that you spend count. For this to work, you have a part to play as the parent, you cannot simply put a whole list of goals in front of them then walk away!
Be consistent – in how you measure the goals, in being true to your word, in the giving of rewards, in supporting them to achieve the goals by doing what you promised to do e.g. don’t be the one who stops them from achieving the goals due to your schedule for example taking them out till very late during term-time then expecting them to wake up early for school the next morning.
Regularity – review progress and provide feedback regularly. Bad habits are unlikely to form if you have caught them early and nipped them in the bud.
Don’t wait till end of term to review what’s going on, daily would be ideal for younger children, and not less than once a week for those in KS3.
This is an exercise that can be used to complement goal setting. It is more suitable for older children and can be powerful as they take more responsibility for the steps leading to achievement of their goals.
Let your child come up with things they think will empower them to achieve their goals. There are 3 main categories to consider:
- things that they will start doing;
- things they will stop doing; and
- things they will continue doing
Ideally there would be more than one item but not more than five per list.
This is likely to be more effective if they are clearly stated by your child on a flip chart split into 3 columns or 3 separate A4 sized cards and then placed strategically where your child will see them daily.
One final thought for the 21st century parent… it may be a good idea to have a contract for use of social media, video games etc. Perhaps treat the time spent on these as a reward rather than a right; you may find that it also provides a great bargaining tool.