5 Tips for Setting SMART Goals as a Family

by Andy Minshew


Now is the perfect time to set learning goals with your children as you get ready for back to school season. Yet no matter the time of year, goal-setting can help motivate your child to learn new skills.

Sometimes it can be difficult to reach a goal, no matter your age. Have you ever noticed that when a goal is specific and can be tracked children are more likely to reach it? To create stronger goals that lead to success, people often use the SMART acronym as a guide.

What are SMART goals? How can your family use them to set more effective goals for learning and everyday life? Read on to discover more about what this helpful acronym stands for, along with five tips for helping your child set and reach their own goals.

What is a SMART Goal?

What does the SMART goal acronym stand for? SMART goals are:

  • Specific: Your goal is clear and has an end so you know when you have reached it.
  • Measurable: You can track progress on your goal.
  • Achievable: Your goal is challenging, but you are capable of meeting it.
  • Relevant: Your goal is interesting to you or is a skill you want to learn.
  • Time-bound: You have a deadline to complete the goal by.

Ask your child what they would like to get better at, and think of ways to practice the skill. If your child would like to read more often, what could they do to improve? Make this a SMART goal by suggesting that they read one book or one chapter on their reading level every evening before bedtime for a month.

You can start with a smaller goal of a weekly amount if that is more than your child is ready to tackle. That’s what’s great about SMART goals. Your family decides together what will work, and you can change it to fit your needs.

Why are SMART Goals Important?

family working on homeworkWhy should your family focus on making SMART goals? Setting SMART goals can help you make your child’s goals more specific so they are less likely to find the task stressful or too big to handle. Keeping it simple can help them think clearly about the steps it will take to reach their goal, which they should help define.

There is research to back up how SMART goals are especially helpful for learners. In one classroom, students who wrote down SMART goals at the beginning of a project felt more prepared and motivated to succeed.[1]

5 Tips for Setting SMART Learning Goals with Your Child

1. Start with small goals

Big goals can feel overwhelming for children even if they follow SMART guidelines. It helps to focus on one step at a time as you work towards long-term goals. When your child reaches their first goal, they can celebrate the success and feel ready to start on the next step.

A child who loves to read might want to set a goal to write a story that is five pages long. If they are still new to writing, accomplishing this goal alone may be challenging. They can start small by writing a few paragraphs inspired by a creative writing prompt twice a week for a month, which will eventually help them complete their larger goal.

family reading a book2. Write down your child’s goal

When people take time to write down their goals, they are more likely to reach them.[2] After your child has chosen their goal, ask your child to write it down. If your child cannot write yet, you can write their goal down for them or they can draw a picture of their goal instead. Make sure to keep the reminder somewhere they will see it each day, like on the fridge, or in a daily journal.

3. Support your child as they work on their goal

Encourage your child to ask for support as needed while they work on their new goal.[3] When they feel stuck, brainstorm ways that they can keep working on it.

If your child sets a goal to memorize the names of all eight planets in the solar system, you could help your child think of a funny acronym or a silly song to remember the planet names. If your child wants to learn how to tie their shoes by themselves, you can teach them the “bunny ears” method as a helpful reminder.

family doing homework4. Track progress on your child’s goal

It is important to check in with your child on their goal regularly to help them stay on track. Work together to find a way to measure their progress.[4] There are different ways to measure progress depending on the type of goal.

If your child is working on learning the alphabet by the end of the month, each day when you sing the alphabet song together you will hear how many letters they remember. When your child has a math quiz coming up, they can practice adding numbers between 1 and 10 to prepare. You can use objects like beads to do some hands-on practice, or you could find a pre-test online ahead of the test. Pay attention to their practice to see how it is going each day.

5. Choose a learning reward that connects to your child’s goal

While rewards like a treat or activity can encourage children to work on their goal, a learning reward is better for long-term motivation.[5] If your child achieves their goal to read a picture book all by themselves by the end of the month, a connected reward would be a trip to the local library.

Now that you’ve learned about the steps your family can take to set and achieve SMART goals, here’s a resource to learn how to add new habits to your family schedule. With your help, your child can take more ownership of their learning routine.


1. Lawlor, K.B., and Hornyak, M.J. “SMART Goals: How the Application of Smart Goals Can Contribute to Achievement of Student Learning Outcomes.” Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, 39, 2012.

2. Traugott, J. “Achieving your goals: An evidence-based approach.” Michigan State University, August 2014. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/achieving_your_goals_an_evidence_based_approach.

3. Hurley, K. “How to Help Your Child Set and Reach Goals.” PBS Kids for Parents. June 3, 2016. https://www.pbs.org/parents/thrive/how-to-help-your-child-set-and-reach-goals

4. Parker, W., and Chung, A. “A Father’s Guide to Helping Kids Set and Achieve Goals.” Very Well Family. June 21, 2020. https://www.verywellfamily.com/helping-kids-set-and-achieve-goals-4121002

4. Mathewson, T.G. “How to unlock students’ internal drive for learning.” The Hechinger Report. March 27, 2019. https://hechingerreport.org/intrinsic-motivation-is-key-to-student-achievement-but-schools-kill-it/


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