In Discipline with Respect, I recommend parents set goals after identifying the behavioral lessons they would like their children to learn by a certain age. Setting goals is a good idea for adults and children. When parents set goals, they also serve as role models for their children.
Anytime is a good time to set goals. So, if you are reading this at the beginning of a year or at another time, the psychological value of goal-setting remains important to helping people make achievable life-changes.
Daphna Oyeserman (USC) and her team studied the effects of measuring time on planning for a future event like saving for retirement. It turns out that the way participants “framed” time influenced their plans to take action. Instead of thinking in terms of years, it might be best to think in terms of days (Psychological Science). And its best to think in terms of months rather than years.
Parents can apply this kind of thinking to behavioral goals. For example, if you want your child to develop financial responsibility by age 16 and your child just turned 12, you might think 4-years is far in the future—and you have plenty of time. But if you think in terms of days (1,465), you might be more inclined to make a list of tasks to improve the odds your teen will have the self-discipline and other skills crucial to responsible financial behavior. Fortunately, many parents help children develop responsible financial behavior before age 12. Unfortunately, some children grow up with a limited understanding.
There are other factors to help adults and children reach their goals. As I mention in Discipline with Respect, goals should be realistic, specific, measurable, and dated. I also recommend working on only 2-3 goals at a time.
1. Realistic goals are those a person can reach with additional effort and encouragement. Most of us can increase our exercise by a small percentage of steps or minutes, decrease our consumption of sugar treats, increase our savings by a small percentage, help one additional person, and so forth.
2. Specific goals are stated in precise language such as units of money saved, pounds of weight lost or gained, words written, pages read, days of temper outbursts, or steps walked.
3. Measuring progress is easy for those goals having natural units as mentioned above. Other goals may require some additional thought. You may come up with a quality rating instead of a concrete number. For example, you could ask for feedback on the quality of a quilting project from expert quilters. I often ask for feedback on my writing projects, which helps me gauge how close I am to reaching publication quality before submitting a paper to a journal editor. The chapter on feedback can help parents give specific feedback to children on their behavior.
4. Finally, we help ourselves when we attach a date to a goal. As suggested in the research study above, we might be better to think in terms of days rather than years. Parents and teachers can help children by thinking in terms of 90 days to complete a project.
You may be able to tell from this post that Discipline with Respect is about developing responsible behavior. Although I discuss the usual principles of how to use consequences in discipline programs, I view discipline as education—all the things we do to help children become mature, responsible, and respectful adults.