As parents of a toddler, my wife and I often talk about our parenting goals and family goals.
Let’s face it… parenting is hard! Especially in our current culture, raising a child can be overwhelming. We’re constantly receiving direct and indirect messages about how to parent and what parenting goals are important. Between friends, family, television, books, the internet, and our own instincts, we can easily start to feel mixed-messages regarding parenting goals and end up with more questions than answers.
Before jumping into the list, I think it’s important to say there is no one size fits all when it comes to parenting goals or kids goals. The goals for children and the parenting goals listed below are personal. Your background, values, and overall family goals may be different and thus result in your own unique parenting goals and goals for your child. Parenting with purpose, parenting goals, and overall family goals looks different for everyone.
With that said… here is our top ten list of parenting goals. Which goals do you share? Which goals are less important to you and your family? Let us know in the comments below!
Parenting Goals | 10 Family Goals For Our Child
1. Encourage independence
Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.
I love this quote. I first learned of it while reading the book The Coddling of the American Mind. The book was was a thought-provoking read that essentially argued that we’ve tipped too far in protecting our kids from hardship. Similar to our how minds and physical bodies need to face resistance to grow, our children need to face appropriate levels of resistance to grow, develop, and ultimately become independent.
As our children grow older they’ll face a road of countless decisions and obstacles, most of which we as parents are not present for. I’m talking things like social media, screen time, friendship and relationship decisions, academic decisions, drug/alcohol use, peer pressure, mental help and knowing how/when to seek help, and lots more. If we have not prepared our children for the proverbial road they will likely struggle with some of these decisions which is the last thing we want as parents.
Many parents (I certainly have been guilty of this) try bulldoze a smooth path for our children to comfortably walk on. There is even a term for this… it’s called bulldozer parenting. I think it’s a close cousin of helicopter parenting where we swoop in and fix whatever needs fixing. We do these things with the best of intentions as we want our children to be safe and happy.
There are costs associated with bulldozer or helicopter parenting:
- We’re implicitly telling our child we don’t trust them or believe they are capable
- We deprive them from a learning opportunity when the stakes are relatively low
So despite our best intentions to help we may actually be causing harm. Again, that is the last thing we want as parents.
This all ties into independence. Why is it so important to encourage and develop independence? By allowing our children age appropriate levels of independence it let’s them know we believe they are capable little people. It makes them feel valued and empowered. It also allows them to learn, grow, and improve on their ability to make good choices which is a critical skill for kids and adults. The fact of the matter is our kids will one day be adults. Parenting goals that help prepare kids for this eventuality are logical family goals to have.
This independence mindset can start at a very young age and progress over time. Some examples of ways parents can encourage independence:
- Letting your two year-old try to dress herself or put on her own shoes
- Having your four year-old feed the dog
- Including your 12 year-old in on a big financial decision like buying a car and listen to her opinion
At each stage of development there are countless opportunities that exist that will help encourage independence and prepare our child for the road ahead. Sometimes it’s faster and easier fly by these moments without giving your child the time and space to learn from them.
I’ll be the first to admit that stepping back and giving your child room to develop their independence can be a difficult parenting goal and is much easier said than done. But give it a try… you might be surprised your child is more capable than you think! Encouraging independence is an awesome parenting goal and will help your kiddo for the rest of his or her life.
2. Help develop confidence and competence
Helping your child develop both confidence and competence ties in closely with the idea of encouraging independence. Self-confidence is built over time. We should most certainly celebrate kids’ uniqueness and provide them tons of love and support but it is my belief that we as parents we cannot directly give them self-confidence. Instead that confidence is earned over time.
Think about your own life… think about when you felt at your most confident or competent and what were the circumstances?
Chances are it was confidence was due to facing a fear or overcoming an obstacle. It probably wasn’t from relaxing on front of the TV feeling totally safe and comfortable. I can recall the feeling I had, after months of training, when completing a half marathon in under two hours (not that impressive to you runners I know!). My head up was held high and felt full of confidence. That confidence stayed with me into all different phases of my life (work, home, etc). There were days it was difficult and I wanted to quit but by persevering through it allowed me to reach a goal and feel really good about it.
I use the half-marathon example as it’s helpful to think about how our physical bodies gain strength and compare it to our inner-selves. Our muscles need the stress of weight to grow strong. Our cardiovascular systems needs the stress of exertion to get into shape. If we just sat around on the couch all day our bodies would atrophy and become weak.
Both our body and mind need challenge to grow.
- Our physical bodies grow when we subject them to adversity. Our brain and inner-selves functions in much the same way
- We build confidence, competence, and independence by growing stronger in the face of an obstacle or difficult situation
- Encouraging your child to discover, think for themselves, make mistakes, and learn from the mistakes helps build confidence and confidence
To be clear I’m not advocating subjecting your child to unhealthy amount of stress or pressure. Instead it simply means giving your child the opportunity to work through small hardships and attempt things they may think are difficult even at the risk of failing. Chances are you’ll be surprised at the resulting growth. And of course, do it in a loving environment as love and support is the foundation to confidence and competence.
3. Support curiosities, encourage a love of learning, and praise effort
Encouraging your child’s sense of wonder and questioning will plant the seeds of a life full of learning. I have yet to meet a young child who isn’t naturally curious. Children are natural learners. Quite simply they love to learn. It’s innate inside all young children. It’s almost like they are radiating this bright light of curiosity and energy.
Unfortunately for many children, over time this bright light starts to get dampened. Perhaps it’s the one-size fits all approach that educating large classrooms of children necessitates. Perhaps it’s rigid curriculum or standardized tests. No matter the cause it seems the natural love of learning and curiosity can often dissipate as children grow.
As a parent, encouraging a love of learning will help your child have a richer life. Learning isn’t just a means to an ends. It’s not just so we can score well on a test. It’s so we can better know about ourselves and the world around us.
How can we encourage a love of learning?
- Expose your child to a variety of experiences: It’s a great big world out there. The more of it a child can see the more they may become curious or interested. Some examples may be travel, trying new foods, or learning about new hobbies or activities. Simply by getting out there into this colorful world of ours can encourage curiosity and learning.
- Observe and follow your child: Simply by taking the time to truly observe your child can help you see passions and interests that would catch fire if just given a bit of fuel. As parents we are so busy sometimes we may miss the subtle signs or cues that our children are giving. Take a pause to look for those areas where you child is showing interest, ask questions, and nurture their interest.
- Praise effort: Somewhere along the line we parents have come to the belief that if we tell our kids how smart and amazing they are it will help instill the most important trait of all: self-confidence. But as a great book called NutureShock points out, instead of helping, we are actually harming our child with all the “you’re so smart and great” stuff. How? Children told they are smart begin to struggle when reality inevitably doesn’t line up with this identity. Instead of pushing into an area that feels challenging they may shy away. After all, if I try and fail then I am still “smart”? We know our brain grows in a similar manner as our body in that they both require challenge and resistance to grow. So by consistently re-enforcing this notion of innate smartness we may actually be handicapping them from pushing into the challenges that are essential for growth.
- How can we praise effort?: What is the antidote to praising results or praising perceived traits like intelligence? It is praising effort or specific behaviors. Instead of “you are so smart” it’s “I like how you focused on your spelling words“. Instead of “Why did you get a B- on your advanced math test” it’s “I like how your challenged yourself with that math class“. Fostering an environment where it is okay to try and fail while praising the underlying effort is much more conducive to building smart, resilient, and self-confident kids than the less-than-sincere messages of “you’re so smart and amazing” that we often think are essential.
4. Model grace and courtesy
When some people hear this grace and courtesy parenting goal they may initially cringe and think of some overly formal person. Teaching grace, courtesy, manners, and etiquette are not about learning how to hobnob at a fancy dinner party. Instead they are important tools you are giving your child to help them navigate society.
Grace and courtesy can also be thought of as social skills in general. Social skills are vital to our relationships. They impact our ability to get along well with our family, friends, employers, and society at large. The depth and strength of these relationships are closely tied to our overall happiness so working on grace and courtesy is a great parenting goal to have.
Think of all the little situations you face as a young child:
- How to respond when a friend who is trying to take the toy you’re using
- How to express you’d like to play with a toy your friend is using
- When to speak and with what volume of voice
- How to ask for help
- How to ask for privacy
These situations and challenges only become more complex as kids grow older. Learning how to gracefully and courteously navigate these situations may seem trite at first blush but they are incredibly valuable.
How can parents help teach grace and courtesy?
- Convey the same message with our words and actions: Children are smart! They will quickly pick up on situations when your words and behaviors do not match up. The whole “do as I say, not as I do” message doesn’t often work. Children operate with a sense of fairness… it’s not fair that you never say please or thank you but I have to. Consistency with words and actions is much more effective.
- Model grace and courtesy: Think how a highly absorbent child would internalize from a parent who is often yelling, interrupting, taking things without asking, etc. These behaviors will begin to feel normal and likely be replayed by the child in school or even later on at work. These can be limiters in school with friendships and academics. On the other side of a coin, absorbing skills like learning how to listen and learning how to express your feelings can unlock relationships with peers and teachers. Simply by being the best version of yourself and working to display your own grace and courtesy will be of enormous benefit to your child.
- Explain customs and norms: For example, talk about how you greet and interact with colleges at work, how you introduce yourself to new people, how you apologize when you did something wrong, etc. The act of talking through this situations can be enlightening for children and shed light on how things work in our culture.
Our next goal closely ties into learning about grace and courtesy…
5. Cultivate the ability to work well with peers and authority
Do you know anyone who is abrasive or rude? Often they may not realize how they are coming across but as a result they end up unknowingly isolated themselves from the group. I’ve seen this play out in work settings all the time and it leads to being skipped over for promotions or interesting projects. Being intelligent (high IQ) helps but in my experience the people who are most successful possess a high degree of emotional intelligence (EQ). They can work well in groups, work well with peers, work well with people who have different opinions or work styles, and work well with authority figures like bosses. Working well with peers and authority is clearly important but how can we parents help cultivate this ability?
- Focus on grace, courtesy, and social skills as discussed in #4
- Participate in a sports team or club where kids will be faced with situations where they need to work together, listen to a coach, etc
- Go to summer camp which contains lots of teamwork opportunities
6. Help develop a respect for the environment
Another great parenting goal is helping develop respect for both our physical environment (our room, kitchen, classroom, etc) and the natural environment (our land, water, and air).
Ideas for helping kids learn a respect for the home environment:
- Explaining if toys are not put away someone could trip and get hurt and/or break the toy
- Creating a place for everything to do. Kids often feel a strong sense of order. When they realize this book belongs on the shelf they are prone to place it there after using
- Helping kids realize how good it feels to keep their space in order
Think of how you feel after organizing a messy room. It’s like a weight is lifted off our shoulders. We feel more peace and comfortable in our environments. It works the same way with children.
You can also broaden it out to how treating our natural environment with respect allows us to have clean drinking water and clean air to breath. We must take the time to care for our home and worldly environment so we can live in harmony with it.
7. Help develop a respect for money
Did you know the number one issue couples fight about? It’s money. Because money presents such a challenge for us adults and as we often receive minimal financial education as kids it makes a lot of sense for parents to help their child develop a respect and understanding of money. How can we do this?
- Let your child make age appropriate choices with money. Talk about why they made the choice, how they feel, etc
- Read books to your child that will help them make sense of money
- Talk openly about money with your child in an age-appropriate manner
Interested in learning more about teaching kids about money? Check out our article on the topic here for lots more good info.
8. Teach and model practical life skills
Practical life skills are so important and are huge confidence boosters. They help a child feel competent, capable, and independent. Look for ways to teach or include them in your parenting. Here are just a few ideas:
- Personal hygiene: We feel better when properly take care of ourselves. These are things like brushing our teeth, showering, and brushing our hair.
- Doing laundry: Young kids love being involved. You don’t want to be going off to college and not know how to clean your own clothes!
- Cooking: A way to be creative, feel satisfaction about making something, and even learn a little math and science
- Cleaning: Learning to care for our environment is an area rich for learning
- Caring for pets: Learning to care for pets can help teach empathy and responsibility
Related to these practical life skills is the importance of diet, exercise, and sleep which is our parenting goal number nine!
9. Explain and model the importance of diet, exercise, and sleep
Healthy habits around sleep, diet, and exercise are so important!
- Diet: Nutrition habits begin forming at an early age so starting out on the right foot can delivery benefits that last a life time. You control the supply line and once you slip into lots of sugars and processed foods it can be difficult to change course. By now we all know that science has shown what we eat has a major impact on our physical and mental health. Preparing healthy meals, modeling healthy food habits, and explaining the importance of providing our bodies nutrients is a great parenting goal.
- e-Diet: Just like junk food, junk device usage is harmful to minds and bodies and should only be consumed in moderation. I think of those mind-numbing YouTube videos and games in the same light as Oreo cookies. They taste good for a minute but eat a lot of them and you end up not feeling so good. Helping your children learn to manage these empty calories will help them both physically and mentally.
- Exercise: This one is obvious… exercise is great for our bodies and minds!
- Sleep: We are bombarded about the importance of diet and exercise. Science is proving that sleep should be right up there with diet and exercise when it comes to factors that impact our physical and mental health. Sleep is so so important! And many children don’t get enough sleep. Like nutrition habits, sleep habits can form at an early age and unhealthy ones can be hard to kick. Getting 8+ hours of sleep a night helps with mood, academic performance, and physical health.
10. Support academic preparation and process
Supporting academics is a balance and it differs by age and stage of development. Children are dynamic. They are always growing and changing and as a result your parenting goals and techniques around academics shift over time. Here are some general family goals for supporting academics:
- Help nurture a love of learning
- Read to your child and encourage reading at home for pleasure
- Take the time to truly observe your child and understand her stage of development
- Create an nurture an environment that is conducive to learning and focus
- Be interested. Ask questions and show sincere interest in what the child is doing and showing interest in
- Praise effort. Encourage and support your child when she is facing challenges and pushing into spaces that can feel uncomfortable
Bonus #11. Help your kids become the best version of themselves
All of these parenting goals really boil down to one big goal: helping your child become the best version of himself or herself. Parenting is really hard and it seems once we get one stage figured out our kids are onto the next one complete with a new set of challenges. Throughout all stages of a child’s development, your love and guidance will help them in becoming the best version of themselves.
What are your top parenting goals or family goals? Are there any goals above that you love? Any you dislike? Drop a comment below and let us know!
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