Setting Goals with Your Teen or Pre-teen: 5 Tips for Success

My husband is very successful in his work. He manages time well and has great working relationships with his colleagues and direct reports – evidenced by the many farewell emails, heartfelt inscription in cards, and often tearful good-byes that have been shared with him these past few weeks.

We have both heard friends exclaim, How do you do it all? How do you get so much accomplished? They are often surprised when we reply that we simply set goals and take measureable steps to achieve them.

Goals are critical. They keep you focused on what’s important to you, and allow you to make the best use of your day. When tackled correctly, they force you out of your comfort zone and help you to grow more each day than you would without them. Most importantly, goals put us in the driver’s seat and give us control. By setting a goal, you are taking an active role in driving new and better results in your life. What could be more important than that?

Setting Goals with Your Teen: Five Tips for Success @EvaVarga.netTeaching our pre-teens or teenagers to set goals effectively can be life-changing. However, as we teach goal-setting to our children, we need to make sure we’re showing them how to use goals to have the greatest possible positive impact on their lives.


The most important thing to remember is that goals are personal. We as parents have experience and should try to impart our wisdom. However, we need to provide guidance around the process of goal-setting. Try not to determine the specific content of the goals. Keep in mind these are their goals, not yours.

Everyone will have different goals. The question is what are you excited about? What do you want to do? What passions drive them? What are their areas of interest? Support their process of self-discovery and encourage them to follow their hearts.

Encourage them to also be as detailed and specific as possible. Saying “I want to be a writer.” or “I want to be a concert pianist.” is too vague and thus more likely to fail.

Answer the questions: What are you going to do? Why do you want to do it? When are you going to do it? I am really interested in ____, so my goal might look like this: ____.  I want to do this to help me ____. 


My daughter has aspirations to write a novel. She has several notebooks with pages and pages of stories that are beginning to emerge. She has typed out numerous fan fiction spin offs and has shared them on Wattpad. Most recently, she has asked to be excused from her other lessons in the month of November so that she can participate NaNoWriMo, the annual novel writing project whereby each participant aims to write a 50,000-word rough draft in the 30 days of the month.

A key step in setting goals and achieving the desired result is to make your goal measurable. A number of pages per week or the number of words per month is a measurable goal. You will be able to hold yourself accountable and measure your progress. Remember, it is a numbers game. If you want to be a writer, for example, the best way to get better is to fill more pages.


Setting goals can be a double-edged sword. It can drive purposeful action in our lives and allow us to achieve more over a shorter period of time. Setting goals can also be a source of anxiety. They have the potential to create a hyper-focus on future circumstances.

Relatedly, goals need to be attainable. Continuing with my daughter’s goal writing a novel, if she sets out to fill 100 pages a week, she will probably fall short of her goal (at least I would). To assure success, choose a number that you can do but will push you a little outside of your comfort zone.

Setting Goals with Your Teen: Five Tips for Success @EvaVarga.netRealistic

Life is always throwing curve-balls in an attempt to derail us from our path. We may fall short of our goal but that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel and give up. Perhaps you need to be more specific in your goal statement or quantitative measure. If 50,000 words in a month seems far too much, perhaps 25,000 or 10,000 words is more attainable?

Celebrating small milestones and accomplishments along the way can help maintain enthusiasm. Take heart and trust you will get better, just give it time. Do not judge yourself on how pretty a painting is, but attend to what you discovered, or how much richer your memories of the experience have become.


One of the goals I have had in the past that I look forward to revisiting once we get settled in our new home is to keep a nature journal. I loved documenting my discoveries alongside my children when they were younger. Somewhere along the way, we stopped journaling regularly and I really miss it.

When and how often are we going to open my journal? Every moment of my day is already filled. How can we fit in something new? These are just a couple of the questions that have been going through my head as I begin to formulate my goal.

Another key to successful goal setting is to connect routines you already have in place. For example, when we go birding or hiking, I can bring our journal materials along with me and start to journal on these expeditions. Journal entries need not take hours. We can get out our journals to catch fifteen minutes here and ten minutes there.

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We all want what’s best for our kids. Teaching them to think in terms of setting and accomplishing goals will help them discover that their best source for fulfillment is within themselves. Experience with setting goals will provide the recognition that they control the outcomes in their lives. Through the process of setting goals, we can give our children the most important gift any parent can give – the ability to thrive in life without us.

5 Steps to Cultivating Passions in Children

Passion is something that is cultivated. True passion arises after you’ve put in the long hours to really become a craftsman in your field and can then leverage this value to really have an impact, to gain autonomy and respect, and ultimately, to control your occupational destiny.

To paraphrase Steve Jobs’ famous Stanford Commencement address: You’ve got to find what you love, don’t settle.


Attending a Piano Guys concert this past summer.

I certainly have no idea where the interests of my children will lead them in the future. My role, as their parent, is to provide them with the tools (academic knowledge and skills) and resources (knowing how to find answers to their questions and the ability to work with others) they will need for success as an adult.

Our homeschooling style has evolved over the years; we go with the flow and our approach changes with the tides. At our core, however, is interest-based or child-led learning. Today, I share a simple five step approach to cultivating passions in children.

Interest-based, child-led learning emanates from within the child outward.  As parents, we can be careful observers who translate what we see into additional resources that can feed the flame of passion within the child.

Our wisdom and experience as parents is absolutely needed.  It is what we are exposing our children to within our home and outside those walls in the greater world or through the great, intellectual resources of computers and technology that can help our children stumble upon an intriguing interest.  It is also taking what they become passionate about and feeding the flame from within outward.


Meeting the incredible pianist, Alpin Hong, after an evening performance.

5 Steps to Cultivating Passions

1. Gather Sparks of Curiosity

Allow the whims and interests of your children guide you. Those little sparks of interest can lead you to great places. Follow the bunny trail. Trust your intuition and use it to make small investments in things that are potentially interesting. Read different books, take on different activities, and don’t be afraid to meet different people.

2. Fan the Flames of Interest

Build upon the little sparks of interest and opportunities that come by your life. If your child reads a book about sailing and likes the subject, sign him up for a sailing class. If your child enjoys playing with Lego, consider buying iStop Motion and playing around with making your own animated short films together.

There have been many rabbit trails along our homeschool journey. Here are a few whose initial sparks have ignited flames:


Volunteering at a local retirement home, a weekly service he initiated on his own.

3. Cut Out Distractions

Cultivating whims and exploring new passions requires time. If their interests are genuine and worth exploring, it shouldn’t be too difficult to eliminate the non-essentials. Distractions such as television, excess internet usage, and video games only take a bit of conditioning to let go. Like many modern families, this is an area we are still working to balance, little by little.

When the kids are passionate about something, however, you will find they truly want to spend time honing their skill.  Jeffrey, for example, is a very active boy of nearly 10 years. Like most boys his age, it is difficult to get him to sit still for very long. However, he spends hours watching videos of Alpin Hong or The Piano Guys on YouTube and then trying to emulate them himself. Inspired by The Piano Guys’ Charlie Brown Medley, he recently began volunteering to play the piano at a local retirement home.

While Geneva has had music lessons for several years (first in piano and now with violin), seeing The Piano Guys in concert sparked a desire to improve and invest more time in cultivating her own skills. Shortly after our return home, she expressed interest in auditioning for Youth Symphony. She worked hard with her instructor and was over-joyed to be selected for second chair.


Upon auditioning for Youth Symphony

4. Create Value

Down the road, if you or your child have a skill that creates social value and can fill human needs, you can also consider a process for gaining income. This certainly isn’t necessary for all interests and monetizing a passion takes skill, as any entrepreneur can tell you. Some passions are easy to translate. An interest in fly tying could allow you to design and sell your own flies. Other passions are more difficult.

My daughter loves hand tying her own flies for fly fishing and at Fish Camp last year received acclaim for a design of her own. She recently set up a booth at a local craft faire and sold her entire inventory!


Volunteering to tie flies at a local fly fishing workshop 

5. Repeat

The process of following whims, cultivating passions, turning them into valuable skills, and then finally earning revenue (if interested) is a lifelong pursuit. Just as you should not expect that all their passions will lead to a job they love, do not obsess over failed attempts or that their interests change as they grow.

The sensation of excitement about a particular idea is often a different sensation than the type of deep passion that drives people into a fulfilling career. Excitement comes and goes.

If you desire to allow your children’s whims and interests to guide their learning and wish to cultivate their passions, you may be interested in reading my earlier post,  7 Steps to Successful Project Based Learning.