Children thrive when they are surrounded by stable, consistent and meaningful relationships with caring adults.

Research shows that a quality mentoring relationship can have a resoundingly positive impact on young people’s lives. Youth with quality mentoring experience better educational, vocational and psychosocial outcomes than their unmentored peers. For all its benefits, unfortunately, one in three young people will grow up without ever having a positive mentor.

Read the Issue! 

young boy high fiving older man next to bikes

What are your goals for 2018? For adults, the most popular resolutions include exercise more, quit smoking, learn a new skill, and manage money better. What about for kids? Should they also be making New Year’s resolutions? Studies show child goal setting can build their resilience, confidence and motivation. Yet it is important that we understand how goal setting is different for children. With the right approach and tools, building our children’s ability to set appropriate goals can put them on a path to long-term success.

As caring adults, we can set the conditions for our children to learn the benefits of goal setting. In fact, experts agree that most children learn how to set goals by continually watching their parents and mentors. Teaching children how to set and achieve goals helps them learn the values of reflection and self-improvement. And reflective self-improvement, also called a growth mindset, has been found to be a better predictor of future success than IQ.

To be effective, children must drive the goal-setting process. To ensure that the goals are truly those of the child and not a reflection of adult overreach, caring adults must play a supporting role, allowing the child to identify their unique goals. One approach, the ABCs of Goal Setting, from Psychology Today, highlights that goals should be achievable and believable, while involving personal commitment. EdWeek proposes a simple “noun plus verb” structure, such as “read every night” or “attend homework groups.” With any approach, it’s important to review plans regularly and to anticipate that setbacks may occur and adjustments will be needed.

While goal setting can be started with children as young as 3 or 4, it is important to adjust the approach based on the child’s age. At any age, start the conversation by simply asking children what they would like to do this year. Michelle Borba, parenting expert and author of the recent book “UnSelfie,” suggests then using this formula: “I will” plus “what,” “when” and “how.” For younger kids, the formula simplifies to “I will” plus “what.” Goals such as learning to tie shoes or memorize simple addition facts are realistic for little ones and can later grow to be more complex.

Psychology Today says a key in goal setting is to listen to the child and focus on the process of improvement rather than the product. We also can help by ensuring that our kids don’t set too many goals or select goals that are too complex or too simplistic. Many experts suggest that by selecting goals that are just out of reach we can teach children to try new things.

At the same time, kids need to see and understand that self-improvement takes time and that setbacks are normal. Show them the struggles you’ve encountered to reach your own goals. There are many great biographies, such as those of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and many Olympic athletes, that highlight the essential connection between goals, failure and success.

Goal setting holds the promise of helping kids in many parts of their lives, and experts recommend looking beyond academics. When youth are overscheduled and stressed, they may need to identify goals and action steps that foster relaxation and fun as part of their lives. Borba recommends we promote this balance by helping children set and achieve character goals. Character goals aim at cultivating “we-thinkers” instead of “me-thinkers,” helping kids become better individuals and community members through building traits such as caring, courtesy, respect, patience, generosity and truthfulness. Another way to reinforce the importance of these character goals is for the entire family to identify and work towards a shared goal, such as listening more or reaching out to elderly relatives.

In 2018, instead of just telling your child they are smart, you can teach them that they are capable of taking on challenges that can result in growth. Listen to their goals, help them define the larger strategy and necessary daily actions, then provide lots of cheering, encouragement in the face of setbacks, and unconditional support. As we aim to grow and nurture our future leaders, goal setting may be the key to building motivated, resilient and hopeful kids. And it’s a goal we can all share.

(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)


• Psychology Today: The ABCs of Goal Setting
• EdWeek: 10 Tips for Setting Successful Goals
• Dr. Michele Borba: Helping Kids Become Goal Setters

Our kids are listening as negative political ads blare from our screens and radio waves. They see the political rants swirling on social media. How we approach politics with our children is important not only in this heated election cycle, but also in shaping their understanding of civic engagement for years to come.

Children consume a wide range of election-related media, including ads, debates and political commentaries. They are naturally curious about what’s going on around them.

“We want to encourage that curiosity,” said Jonathon Beckmeyer, a professor in the Indiana University School of Public Health. “The role of parents is to help guide those discussions and be a sounding board for what the kids are seeing or experiencing in their daily lives.”

The challenge is to adjust the approach to their developmental stage, Beckmeyer said. With young children, experts suggest focusing on the basics of our political system, the reason for elections and the goal of campaigns. Middle schoolers may begin to connect political issues with their lives, requiring open dialogues from adults. And teens start to develop their own political beliefs.

Indiana law requires the election process be taught in schools. To fulfill that requirement, some schools may use the Indiana Kids’ Election. Volunteer attorneys from the Indiana State Bar Association speak to students about our representative democracy, including voting, poll books and the “I Voted” stickers. Carol Adinamis, president of the Indiana State Bar Association, says the program’s intent is to educate students and their families about the complexities of the system and process.

Our government is complicated but also thrives on differing opinions. This means children will inevitably encounter others holding differing beliefs. Experts agree it’s important to teach kids how to respect and accept these differences.

“Can you still maintain a level of respect and mutuality in those relationships? If you can, then it’s fine that you don’t agree,” says Beckmeyer.

For many, this may be the most difficult aspect of encouraging a child’s sense of civic responsibility. By focusing on the positive attributes of your candidates, rather than the negatives of the alternatives, adults have the opportunity and responsibility to model respectful discourse.

Now is the perfect time for children to get involved in civic society. Vote, and take your children with you. Let them volunteer for issues or candidates they support. Share your political views with them, while encouraging them to develop their own. Demonstrate that everyone has the right to an opinion which is to be respected, even if it differs from your own. By focusing on the importance of voting and civic engagement, rather than on mudslinging, we can support the healthy growth of our kids and our democracy.

(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. To provide feedback on the column, she may be reached at or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)