As a parent, I always knew my kids were unique individuals with their own strengths and challenges. Once they started school, I began to fully understand the depth of their differences. That’s when I realized the importance of setting tailored goals for each child.
Setting academic goals became a delicate dance in our family. For my youngest son, now a fourth grader, we set goals that challenge him appropriately. We also focus on keeping his enthusiasm for learning. But for my oldest son, now a 10th grader, his goals are quite different. Because he has an , we focus on incremental progress and celebrating milestone achievements – while also tapping into his love of learning.
To help my kids better understand the importance of their individual goals, I have private conversations with them. We talk about their strengths and challenges. Then we set goals, free from comparison with siblings. We keep these goals private. But we do discuss goals that apply to both kids as a family — goals around self-advocacy, school supply management, and kindness.
Over time, our entire family’s understanding of individualized goals has deepened. But it was not always easy, especially for our kids. We went through the “it’s not fair” phase when one sibling noted their A versus the other’s C. “But why doesn’t he have to do it?” was often the question we had to answer.
My husband and I also had to confront our own expectations and biases. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting kids to achieve the same academic success. But we soon realized that true success meant different things for each child. The goals may be different but the expectation is the same: Do your best and be your best.
Tips to get started with goal-setting
Setting individual goals with siblings is not easy, especially when one child learns and thinks differently. Here are two tips on how to get started.
1. Start conversations within the family early. Be transparent and consistent.
As a family, talk about how everyone has different strengths and challenges. Discuss how goal-setting helps us get better at both the hard and easier things. Talk about how fair does not mean everyone gets the same goals.
Have ongoing conversations about strengths and challenges to help siblings understand their differences. But don’t expect instant acceptance. In my own home, the struggle is real — some days it’s really light, and other days it’s really heavy.
2. Help each child know that their differences matter — both their challenges and their strengths.
We learned the hard way that comparing our kids’ achievements is not a good idea. Instead, we celebrate each child’s progress as its own achievement. We also explain to our kids that one sibling’s high grade doesn’t take away from the other sibling’s progress. And one sibling’s learning differences don’t diminish the other’s accomplishments. Talk with your family about how each child is on their own unique path. Ensure that your role as a parent is to support them wholeheartedly.
Our family’s journey taught us that academic goal-setting is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s about recognizing each child’s strengths and challenges. It’s about celebrating both achievement and effort. Most importantly, it’s about listening to our kids and responding to their individual needs with empathy and love.
Learn more about how to talk with siblings about their challenges. Get tips for praising kids without causing sibling rivalry. And hear more from DeJunne’ on this episode of the In It podcast.
About the author
About the author
DeJunne’ Clark Jackson, MA, MAT, MEd, CALT, LDT is the president of The Center for Literacy and Learning, a Louisiana-based 501c(3) nonprofit organization focused on literacy, birth through life.