Goal-Setting with Your Special Needs Child

August 8, 2013 Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

Goal-setting? It is possible. Parenting a child with mental illness comes with many challenges, not least of all hitting milestones and teaching responsibility. As summer's end is fast-approaching, you've probably thinking about getting ready for the school year. Or even dreading it. Another year filled with calls from the teacher, therapist, etc about your child's mental health and behavioral issues. And while this may be a reality for you, setting and accomplishing goals with your special needs child can be a reality, too.

Before last school year, I went into each one dreading that I'd get phone calls about Bob's behavior. Given his ADHD diagnosis, it was usually impulsive behaviors - speaking out of turn, not following school rules, etc. I worried about new teachers not knowing Bob personally and judging him instead on what the last teacher wrote about him in his school record. It was EXHAUSTING and stressful!

[caption id="attachment_2156" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Set Goals With Your Special Needs Child"][/caption]

Goal-Setting with My Bob

Last year, I tried something different. Bob was entering the 6th grade and wanted more responsibility. He wanted to walk to school alone. I'll be honest, it was a big deal for me. We live in the South Bronx, in New York City. While I love my city very much (and would never consider leaving it, ever), I know that it isn't safe all of the time. Here is this kid with ADHD who can be impulsive and inattentive (though not as much with medication) in an area that has been calm lately, but has not always been so. I panicked for a while, talked to his father and other moms. I couldn't make up my mind so I talked to Bob. He, of course, was all for it. I could see how he was animated and excited at the idea of walking alone to school. I knew that if I didn't use his motivation (and his idea), it would be a lost opportunity for Bob to hit a milestone - being more independent.

So why is it important that you set goals with your child? There are several reasons:

Goal-Setting Reduces Anxiety

If your child is anything like Bob (or you're like me), going to school brings you both anxiety about the coming year. You may be anxious about the impending doom of phone calls and/or your child may be anxious about not being able to make good choices.

Goal-Setting allows you and your child to decrease the anxiety that the school year can bring. And it allows you both to be more comfortable to deal with challenges that come up during the year.

Setting Goals Increases Self-Esteem

Let's face it. A child with mental illness has some self-esteem issues. With Bob, he was upset about being smart enough to make the right choices, but not having the capacity to. He didn't want to get into trouble. Believe it or not, kids want to please their parents. And when they do, they feel good about themselves.

Goals = Plans

When you have goals in mind for the school year, you can develop a plan to help your special needs child meet that goal. By having a clear plan, you already know what steps you'll take. And your child will, too. You can remind your child of both the goal and the plan to help him or her make it happen. And you can remind yourself that your child has the potential to meet goals great and small.

Want to know how Bob did with his goal? Check back here next week! :)

photo credit: Krissy.Venosdale via photopin cc

APA Reference
Zalamar, H. (2013, August 8). Goal-Setting with Your Special Needs Child, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 18 from

Author: Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

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