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How to Have Measurable Goals for Troubled Kids

When it comes to setting goals, telling yourself, "I'm going to stop eating chips at lunch for one month" is much more effective than saying "I'm going to eat less." Goals that are specific and measurable get results, which is why it's important to use them not only to meet weight loss or professional goals, but to help a child eliminate troublesome behaviors.

"To come up with a measurable goal, you first have to identify what you want the outcomes to be, then figure out what is the most effective way to measure it for that child," says Mitchie Kenney, Licensed Specialist in School Psychology for the Nacogdoches Independent School District in Texas.


"When you measure something, it makes you accountable," said Kenney, who recommends using visuals such as star charts to increase a child's behavioral accountability and to provide reinforcement. "It's important for kids to know what they're working towards." Troubled kids," Kenney notes, "need to constantly see their success and focus on the positive."

You'll notice the benefits of using a measurable goal when you see the smile on your child's face after he has earned a star for his chart. Behaviorally challenged kids are often very appreciative when you "catch them doing something right."

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"Always focus on the positive," said Kenney. "When you talk to a child about behavior, talk about replacement behavior -- don't focus on negative behaviors." For example, when a child comes back from time out, you could say, "What do we want to do? Let's have quiet hands and a quiet mouth."

Keeping your eyes -- and your child's -- on the positive helps to prevent her from using negative behavior to gain attention. It is also more affirming and can help to reduce resistance to working towards a behavioral goal.


"Teach a child coping skills to use when they become frustrated. Role play those when they are calm," recommends Kenney. For example, your child may want to go outside to play after dark and you say no. If your child implements the coping skills you have taught him, you can say, "I like the way you are staying in control," and follow up by putting a star on the star chart, a marble in the jar or whatever visual reinforcement you are using.

Talk about goals daily, at the beginning of each day, after school and at the end of the day. When your child fails to meet a daily goal, talk to her and help her to identify what she needs to do to meet the goal the next day if she fails advises Kenney.

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Chances are, if Jenny is throwing the game onto the floor when she loses at home, she is probably engaging in similar behaviors at school although this is not the case in every situation. Maintain communication with your child's teacher so that you can provide consistency between school goals and ones your child is working on at home.

"It's important to have some of the very same goals at home that you do at school," pointed out Kenney. Get on the same page as the teacher and consider using the same system she uses at school. For example, if she uses a "red light, yellow light, green light" system to allow privileges for pro-social behavior, you could do the same at home.


Kenney warns that parents must be consistent. "If the kid has held up his end of the bargain, but you haven't put the stars on the chart and kept your end of the deal, it will lose its effectiveness really quickly."

When you are consistent, it helps your child to keep his eye on what he's working toward and meet his goal. This is why working with your child's teacher is important -- it will help him to maintain his focus.


Measurable goals lend themselves to rewards. "Good behavior should always get good rewards," Kenney states. Once you've set a goal with your child, talk about rewards. Keep in mind that rewards need not always be material in nature. Your child may enjoy going for a nature walk on a favorite trail or getting an extra hour of video game time once she's obtained five out of seven stars on her star chart, for example.

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