For most families, there comes a point in the school year when the combination of schoolwork, sports, clubs, and other extracurricular activities grows to be overwhelming. When this happens, kids may start to feel stressed or even burned out. You can help your kids avoid this problem by teaching them how to prioritize their goals for the year in advance.

Why Set Goals?
One of the most useful life skills you can teach your kids is goal setting. Helping kids learn how to prioritize and work toward their goals will serve them far beyond their school days into adulthood.

When it comes to school-related goal setting, the best approach is to encourage kids to identify their goals and set priorities before the school year begins. Perhaps one of your children is hoping to make the school basketball team. Another child might want to take up a musical instrument, like piano or guitar. And all of your kids should make good grades a top priority. The end of summer is a great time to sit down with each of your school-age children to discuss steps they can take to help them achieve these goals. For example, your kids should plan to set aside a certain amount of time each night to ensure they get all of their homework done--especially if they want to practice basketball too. Planning for these activities in advance can help your kids start their school year off on the right foot this fall.

Goal-setting Basics
Planning for the school year requires some care and attention to detail. Try setting aside some uninterrupted time to meet as a family specifically for the purpose of goal setting. Reserve at least an hour to focus on each child. Some families find this works well on a weekend morning after a family breakfast, or right after dinner before your kids settle down to evening activities.

You'll need a few supplies to help your child with goal setting:

  • A calendar
  • A notebook and pen
  • Your child's upcoming school schedule
  • Information you've received from the school about potential clubs, sports, and extracurricular activities

If you have specific information about your child's classes and afterschool activities, use your calendar and notebook to capture details about the dates and times of these commitments. After recording key dates in the calendar, such as final exams, sports practices and competitions, it will be easier to note potential conflicts.

Once your child's full schedule has been entered on the calendar, you will also be able to see if there are too many activities scheduled. Be sure that your child has reserved enough time for homework and kept some hours unscheduled. If your child's schedule appears unmanageable, discuss the possibility of letting go of some activities, at least for the current semester.

General Guidelines
Even if you don't have information available yet on your child's class schedule and extracurricular activities, you can still get a jumpstart on the planning process. Simply discuss with your child what types of activities you think should take priority during the school year. Most parents agree that it's best to prioritize schoolwork above sports and other outside activities.

At the same time, there may be occasions where a particular activity, such as a school play, band concert, or big game takes temporary precedence if your child has a special talent or plays a large role in the group. In such cases, you may be able to work out an arrangement with your child's teacher to ensure that your child meets expectations for class work and assignments.

HealthAhead Hint: The Value of Planning
Though your child may resist thinking about school before it has started, early goal setting and advance planning can pay big dividends down the road. Remind your kids that they can avoid future stress by taking time now to prioritize their activities for the year ahead. By doing this exercise as a family, you can all breathe easier together once school is in full swing.