What to do About Reluctant Goal-Setters in Your Family

Setting Family Goals

If you’ve read my book about rejuvenating family relationships through the lens of tried and true business principles, you’re familiar with my belief in the power of goal setting. I’ve seen this simple practice transform parent-child relationships, as well as spouse-to-spouse relationships, and if you can get multiple people on board – I bet you’ll see the magic yourself. I emphasize the importance of both collaborative goal setting as an entire family and individual goal setting for each person within the family. Both are equally important, and both can move you forward toward greater self-confidence and deeper connections.

But the effectiveness of goal setting in a family can only happen if every person is a willing participant…which brings me to the heart of this piece. What if you, your wife and your eldest child are gung-ho about the process and eager to dive in – but your youngest child is, well, reluctant (or downright resistant)?

This situation is one I’ve found myself in. Even as the writer of Family 2.0, I still found myself with the struggle of how to motivate one of my family members to set goals in order to bring us all closer together and help us all achieve our dreams.

So, what do you do if your family shares this predicament? Here are a few tips I’ve found to be helpful.

Be the Example

You may not like this first one very much, because it’d be easier if all my recommendations created work for your reluctant child – but not you. However, you cannot inspire someone or demonstrate the value of your mission (nor increase your credibility) if you’re not doing what you want them to do. Instead of telling them about it, show your hesitant family member why goal setting is worth the time investment and dedication it takes.

If you have a goal to save a certain amount with your family, for example, so you can take your family on a trip to Disneyland, make a big deal out of it. Put together a graph that shows where your savings are and where they need to be for this to happen, and then break it down into the daily habits you need to practice to get there. Post this somewhere everyone can see it, like the kitchen or family room. It’s especially helpful if accomplishing one of your goals directly benefits your reluctant child, because they’ll start to feel invested in the process. And they’ll have someone showing them how exciting it can be to know you can reach a big dream if you take the right steps.

Start with a Simple Question

When the time is right, be ready for a conversation (and, tempting as it may be, remember not to preach at your child if they roll their eyes every time you mention goal setting). Instead, when you have a moment one-on-one, ask a simple, two-part question: “What do you really enjoy doing, and what’s one wish you have?” Based on their answer (if they cooperate, of course, and give you one), you can start to hone in on what a realistic and exciting goal might look like for them. If your child is eight years old and says he enjoys riding his bike and wishes he could ride a skateboard just as well, you have valuable insight into what matters to him.

Even if your child is has a really active imagination, you can still use their answer to dig down to a goal that will inspire them. For instance, maybe your 15-year-old is an animal lover and says that she enjoys playing with the family dog and wishes she could have 50 puppies, too. This clearly isn’t going to happen, but maybe you could help her set a goal of volunteering with puppies at a local shelter – and help her figure out what it’ll take to get there. The point is to listen – really listen – to how your child responds to this question and think through how you can help them choose a goal accordingly.

Help them Choose Wisely

Once you have an idea of what your kid values, suggest a few different goals you think they might like to pursue. Avoid laying on the pressure by framing them as “ideas.” Make sure the goals you suggest are age-appropriate, realistic, just out of their reach at the moment and able to be broken up into feasible smaller pieces.

Also, make sure the “reward” they choose for achieving their goal is also attainable, appropriate and worthwhile. Goal setting (and accomplishing) should never be used to bribe your child with ice cream, concert tickets or something else external. Make sure whatever they choose will benefit them in a meaningful way (i.e. getting to participate in a charity race with their friends, helping them feel better physically, giving them confidence in a new sport, etc.). This is the only way they’ll feel real, lasting pride, and continue to set goals (and achieve them) for life.

Progress > Completion

If your child bites and seems enthusiastic about giving goal setting a try (or at least minimally engaged), help them map out the goal and what steps will be needed to achieve it. Whenever they show effort toward their goal, notice! You don’t have to go overboard with praise (and too much praise can backfire, anyway), so just make a point to notice. If running for 10 minutes before school is part of your child’s goal and you see they put their running shoes by the front door, say something like, “Wow, putting your shoes by the door took so much initiative. You’re really prepared.”

If your child is still disinterested at this point, give them some space and don’t bring up goal setting for a few days or weeks. Then, try again.

Retain the Fun Factor

Last, but not least, children of any age need to believe something is fun in order to do it. If you make goal setting sound like a homework assignment and come down on them for any little slip-up in progress, you’ll remove the joy from the process (and all the benefits). Instead, you can turn any goal into a game or a contest, or even make their progress poster board visually interesting by helping them decorate it with stickers and paints and pictures. This should be fun for everyone.

If you take these steps, as often as needed until you see some traction, I’m willing to bet you’ll eventually pique your child’s curiosity and inspire some initiative. Just keep trying, remain upbeat, encourage them – and repeat. This is really the best recipe for success.

Jay Feitlinger is a serial entrepreneur who is the Founder and CEO of digital marketing agency StringCan Interactive - his eighth company - with offices in Scottsdale, Arizona and Paris, France. As a business owner, husband and father of two lovely pre-teen girls, he intimately understands how entrepreneurial pursuits can take a toll on the most intimate relationships in your life.

He is the author of Family 2.0 which draws on Jay’s personal experience from 15 years of marriage and 17 years of executive leadership, and offers a roadmap to help entrepreneurs get aligned with their families again. Based on proven business best practices, the book outlines a four-day, family-friendly retreat that can be customized to work for any family. After following the process, transformation is all but inevitable.

In addition to running StringCan Interactive and helping entrepreneurs strengthen their families through Family 2.0, Jay is a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization and a highly respected speaker, mentor and advisor.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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