Teaching my child the discipline of goal setting

It’s an interesting time watching as a whole culture seems to be paying the price of short term goals.  Live for today, buy what you want and pay for it, literally and figuratively, later.  Are we the by-product of not growing up on a farm, where the work was done with the promise of a reward in the future?  Many people in our generation have heard and seemed to believe the phrase, “Just do it!”  Too many people today have grown up with a lack of understanding about setting goals; deciding what you want and having the discipline to sacrifice today for the prize that will come tomorrow.

A friend recently asked me, “How can you afford a cabin in the mountains? I know how much you make.” I told him it was a goal that we had set when the kids were born. Missing the point, he asked again, “Yeah, but I still don’t get how you did it.”

My friend knew little about the discipline of setting goals.  Teaching the discipline of delayed gratification is one of the most missing, yet needed areas of parent training in the American family.  We all grow up wanting the “American Dream” but we lack the personal discipline to have the right dreams, as well as the training to set the goals to achieve them.

The discipline of goal setting must be trained.  Without goals, a child will fall victim to a culture that continually screams, “Have it now, do it now. Don’t wait!”

Teaching a child to set worthy goals for himself and then helping him develop the discipline to work toward those goals is a long-term parenting process.  Obviously it starts with the example a parent sets and the statements a parent makes.  

“Dad, why aren’t we buying one of those?  Everyone else has one.”

The answer is a training opportunity.  It’s not that we can’t afford it; we aren’t buying one of those because we have different priorities … different goals.  Rather than have one of those right now, we’d rather be able to pay for college later or have a piece of real estate in the mountains at a later time.  Hence, we are using that money to pay off the mortgage on our house early.

Will the child get it? No, not yet. But he will begin the training process by hearing what you say.  Next, the child has the opportunity to experience the pain of the process.  

It takes more than a parent’s example.  It takes training with short term exercises to practice.  “Son, you seem so hassled every morning before school.  What’s that all about?”  

“Dad, when I get up I just have so many things to pick up off my floor each morning,” the child might answer.  “Can’t I just leave them on the floor and pick them up on Saturday?”

One of this child’s (unspoken) goals is to have an easier start each morning before leaving for school.  In the child’s mind it would be to have less hassle each morning.

A parent could just let the child off and let him clean the room on Saturdays, but that would train the child for the future.  Keep in mind, the mortgage company isn’t going to let him off if he doesn’t feel like paying.

“Son, let’s set a goal of having great mornings and even better Saturdays.  Before you go to bed tonight, I’ll help you hang things up and pack your backpack for school.  That way you will be ready for tomorrow without a hassle.  I know you’d rather put it off, but let’s do this to ease the problem later on … the next morning,” a parent may respond.

As a parent you can go in the room the first night and help.  Go in the room the second night and observe.  Then go in before bedtime the third night, after the room is picked up, and CHEER.

Learning the discipline of goal setting now means paying the price early so you can reap the rewards later.  Learning this with a short-term exercise prepares a child to learn it later on with long-term goal setting.

What if a child knew that every penny he saved during the year would be matched by the parent when vacation time rolled around.

“Dad, how come Billy has so much money to spend on vacation this year.  It’s not fair!”

That’s the moment Dad can say, “Remember when you were buying all those silly bands every time you got you allowance and Billy wasn’t buying anything?  It paid off.  He now has twice as much money as you do to spend on vacation.”

Allowing your children to go through this pain now … the pain of staying with their goals, helps them avoid the serious pain later, when they are adults.   Teach them the Discipline of Goal Setting now so they can reap the benefits later.

Dr. Bob Barnes is the president of Sheridan House Family Ministries. He and his wife, Rosemary, are authors and speakers on marriage and family issues.

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