New Year’s Goals: How to Involve your Child with Special Needs in Making and Achieving Goals

By Diane M. McCullom

It’s January—the holidays have come to an end. It’s back to school, back to work and back to routines. With the end of one year, comes the beginning of a new one—and a new opportunity to make goals for the upcoming months.

But this New Year’s tradition doesn’t have to be limited to adults. Children of all ages and aptitudes should also be encouraged to set goals for learning, personal growth and their futures. When children learn to set goals and reach them, they can visualize their futures, make good choices and make their dreams come true.

Unfortunately, it’s easier for children with special needs to get distracted or discouraged from setting and achieving goals. The Frostig Center, a program dedicated to improving the lives of children with disabilities through research, development and education, did 20 years of research on what makes people with disabilities successful as adults: Goal-setting was one of six success attributes.

Here are a few ways you can cultivate successful goal-setting in your children, students or friends with special needs:

  1. Ask children about their dreams and desires, and encourage them to set goals related to those dreams and desires. In this case, their own desires will fuel their motivation. Listen to their dreams, and don’t squelch them, but help to shape them. For instance, maybe the child lacks social skills necessary in working with others, but he tells you he wants to play basketball as a goal this year. In that case, perhaps you could start by taking him to the library and learn by reading books or watching movies related to the sport. You could also practice social situations in public with the end goal of playing basketball later in the year. With the desire in mind, the child will have a higher chance of being more motivated to achieve his goals.

 

  1. Make goals achievable, measurable and time-sensitive. Big goals are positive, but make sure that the goals are realistic for the individual child. Breaking a big goal down into several smaller ones can make the task of achieving them seem less daunting. For example, getting an A in math for a semester is a great goal, but does the child normally get D’s? It may be overwhelming for the child to suddenly feel the pressure to make all A’s. Smaller, more achievable goals could be getting an A on an assignment or a B on a test.

 

  1. Model perseverance. Teach children that it’s ok to fail as long as they get back up and keep trying. Lead the way this new year by making a family vision board—something in plain view that you and your child see regularly. Seeing how you handle your goals, in success and failure, could be the greatest example of perseverance that your child experiences. Regularly check in with your child about his feelings, encourage the areas where he’s experiencing failure and praise his successes.

These few steps can help your child with special needs make giant leaps in feeling purpose and making dreams come true. Happy new year!

 

Diane M. McCullom is the senior vice president of clinical operations at Dallas-based Epic Health Services, a leading provider of pediatric skilled nursing, therapy, developmental, enteral and respiratory services, as well as adult home health services, with operations in 21 states.

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  2. Guidelines for Choosing a Gift for a Child with Special Needs
  3. How to stop your child’s nightmares!
  4. Child Care Woes
  5. Special needs have special needs!

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