If you are looking for an instant boost in positive emotion or if you want to be elevated by the joy and camaraderie of a group of people, I highly suggest that you stand at the finish line of a marathon. Yesterday my husband and I walked through New Orleans City Park on a beautiful afternoon and listened to the jubilant sounds, watched the joyful expressions and felt the evocative bliss as runners finished the Mardi Gras marathons. Having the top strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence in my back pocket, I was not only elevated by watching the runners, but I was awestruck by the number of children holding signs and banners , watching their moms, dads or relatives running past the finish line. I loved one humorous sign was on bright orange poster board with black letters reading “Daddy, it’s okay if you potty in your pants.” Other banners were inscribed with words of support and encouragement. Step after step along the route revealed children waited with anticipation on the sidelines and celebrating a great accomplishment with their parents.
The people who committed to run the Mardi Gras marathons are a great example of setting complex goals and creating the pathways toward success. Although there is a greater chance of failure with a complex goal like running a marathon, the sense of accomplishment upon completion is greater as well. Is it worth the risk reward? If not for you, it is worth it for your children. A child who watches a parent endure through training and cross the finish line on race day has a greater understanding of the goal-setting process. The caveat is that parents need to include their children in their personal goal-setting process. When we include children in conversations and dialogue around our individual goals, they will understand the process itself and possibly show a greater interest in setting attainable goals. Talking about goals and ambitions encourages a growth mindset in children as they watch parents put forth effort to achieve something desirable. Children will see firsthand that completing a complex goal takes effort and determination, illuminating the belief that skills are malleable and strengthened with practice and hard work. Whether the goal is simple or complex, include children in the process. They will learn from you.
You can introduce goal-setting with your children by talking with them about a skill they want to develop or a behavior they want to change or strengthen. Right now my three-year-old is working on sleeping in her room until the sun comes up and my six-year-old is strengthening her skills of being responsible for her school belongings. They both have marbles they add to a jar for each day they achieve their goal, which is a tangible and concrete way for them to see growth. Goal-setting theory cautions that goals need to be specific, so instead of getting marbles for “good behavior”, you and your child should narrow it down to the one good behavior or skill that needs the most attention. Remember that a vital step in the goal-setting process is feedback, which allows one to adjust goals if needed. Give consistent praise of the process and feedback that will help him access alternative pathways if he meets some obstacles in the way. This is another great opportunity to discuss how you may have overcome hurdles in the past. I can imagine the runner sharing with her child, “At about mile ten I started to really get tired and I didn’t think I was going to make it to the finish line. I envisioned what that finish line was going to look like and feel like and it got me through the last three miles.”
Child rearing is the ultimate marathon and many days parents envision the finish line, whether it be the eighteenth birthday or a child’s wedding day. During this race, modeling goal-setting is an important mile marker along the way of nurturing them into adulthood.