The same life skill that helped Olympic competitors win bronze, silver, and gold medals this summer is the same skill that can help your child graduate at the top of his or her class – goal setting. Helping your children set goals is a major element of success, because you are guiding them to dream, plan, and achieve. This skill is applicable to all areas of life. Goal-setting can help your child ace a test next week or lose 10 pounds before winter break. It also helps your child hone his or her planning skills, which he or she will need to plan the best route to a career, a family, and retirement.

Make goals measurable

Create goals that can be measured. For example, “eating better” may be a great goal, but it is not a measurable one, especially if present eating habits cannot be compared to past ones. To devise a more measurable goal, talk with your child about how he would show someone that he is eating better. For example, will he eat more fruits and vegetables? Less sugar and fat? Smaller quantities of food? And if so, how much less? Your child may revise his goal by promising to reduce the amount of sugar he eats by half. Have your child list the amount of sugar he normally eats, list the amount of sugar he eats each day after setting his goal, and then compare the lists.

Make goals attainable

Discuss the likelihood of accomplishing goals. In the “eating less sugar” example, your child may find that he snacks consistently on candy throughout the day, a habit that he will have to gradually reduce, if not eliminate altogether. Your child may rewrite his or her goal to state: “I will reduce the amount of sugar I eat by 25 percent.” This makes the goal more attainable and sets your child up for success, so he will be encouraged to reduce his sugar intake even more after accomplishing his first goal.

Get an accountability partner

Encourage your child to find an accountability partner. Children need someone to check in with them about reaching their goals. It could be someone who simply asks about progress or someone who offers advice or resources to help. For example, if your child has a goal of getting an “A” on the next research paper, share this goal with a school counselor, who could offer research advice; a friend, who could help your child with the revision process by reading over his paper and giving feedback; or you, always the encourager.

Adapt to goal achievement

Certain behaviors lead to certain consequences. Eating lots of the wrong foods leads to weight gain. Disregarding homework leads to poor grades. Allow your child to apply those cause-effect relationships toward reaching his goals. Let him know that in order to increase the chances of goal attainment, he will need to consistently demonstrate certain behaviors that align with his goal. If your high school student desires to go to college, he should carry out life tasks that put him on the road to college, such as going on college tours, talking to college graduates, and reading college brochures to find out what it takes to attend.

If your college student strives to be a teacher, he or she may begin to read books about the profession, shadow a teacher he or she knows, or volunteer at a school or community center where kids abound.

Setting and achieving goals are skills they will use throughout their lives – at school, work, and in their family. Great things are ahead if they can make their dreams a reality.