Setting Intentions for Kids
Many of us support children in goal setting, but how many of us know the value of helping kids set intentions too?
Goals and intentions both encourage mindfulness, reflection, and positive self-direction. Still, there are a few key differences. While a goal is a clear and measurable target, an intention is more of a guiding principle.
For instance, an intention might be, “I am going to become a more thoughtful person.” By contrast, a goal could be, “I will complete five random acts of kindness by Friday evening.”
Why is helping kids set intentions important?
Intentions help people stay focused in their daily lives. They reflect the individual’s values and are personally inspiring and motivating.
In a stressful and often overwhelming world, they remind children to be mindful about their mental and emotional health. Setting intentions provides guidance for connecting your actions to your values and aspirations. It helps you cut through the chaos to identify what is most important to you.
Intentions can be especially helpful in areas of life that feel uncertain or challenging. Because they focus on process and growth, they’re a great way to help children notice and celebrate improvement.
For instance, a young soccer player might set her intention to become a better team player. Even if her team doesn’t win, she can still celebrate the fact that she communicated, passed the ball, and offered encouragement to her teammates.
How often should children set their intentions?
Intentions may be set hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly. In a classroom, you may ask students to set their intention at the start of each week, day, or class period. Alternatively, you can have your students set their intention before a new activity or project.
At home, children can set daily intentions, or they can choose a focus for each month. They may also set various intentions for various aspects of life (e.g., the soccer team, school, church, and family time).
The exact timing doesn’t matter—it’s all about encouraging children to keep their values in mind and live accordingly.
Questions Kids Can Ask to Arrive at Their Intentions
“Setting intentions” is a broad concept that can be confusing for children. To get started, talk to kids about what intention means and provide a few examples, such as:
- Today, I will focus more in class instead of getting distracted.
- I will offer help to others.
- During this project, I will lead by example in my group.
- Today, I will ask for help instead of getting frustrated or giving up.
- This week, I will be more patient with the people around me.
Then, ask reflection questions to help children think about their values and aspirations. Helpful questions include:
- What do you hope to accomplish in your life?
- What do you hope to accomplish today?
- How do you want to treat the people around you today?
- How do you want to treat yourself today?
- What is important to you? What matters the most?
- List some qualities that you admire in others.
- What kind of person do you want to be?
- What are you thankful for today?
- What would make you feel proud today?
- Is there anything you’d like to let go of today?
- What personal qualities make you feel proud? What personal qualities would you like to work on or develop?
Questions to Encourage Deeper Reflection
Once children have set their intention, encourage deeper reflection with questions such as:
- Why is this intention important to you?
- How will your intention affect the people around you? What about the community, or even the world?
- How will working toward this intention help you become the best version of yourself?
Of course, you may need to adapt these questions for the age of your children or students. Younger children should focus on fewer questions to avoid overwhelm.
Depending on how often you set intentions, replace the word “today” with “this week,” “this class period,” “during this activity,” and so on.
More Tips for Helping Kids Set Intentions
Other best practices for helping kids set their intentions—and remain accountable—include the following.
Intentions are more abstract than goals, so it’s helpful for children to visualize working toward their intention in greater detail. Yes, they want to be more patient with others, but what does that really mean? What actions can they take to support their intention?
Ask children to draw three columns and list what working toward their intention will look, sound, and feel like in action. Younger children can draw a picture of themselves working toward their intention. You may also ask, “How will you know that you’re working toward your intention?”
Once children have practiced setting intentions, this activity isn’t always necessary. Still, it’s helpful to ask children to take a couple of minutes to quietly visualize fulfilling their intention.
Create a Routine
Ideally, you’ll have a routine for intention-setting. With your own children at home, you might discuss your intention for the day around the breakfast table or in the car on the way to school.
With your students, intention-setting can be a “bell work” activity that they complete as soon as they arrive in class (either Monday morning, every day, every other day, etc.). Or maybe your students know that they set their intention before every group activity or new project.
Although routine intention-setting isn’t essential, it does help children know what to expect. And when they know what to expect, they’ll begin pondering their intentions before you even ask, making mindfulness and self-reflection a healthy new habit.
You can also offer students a variety of intention choices and ask which one(s) resonate at the current moment. You can find setting intentions bookmarks here.
Of course, setting intentions and then immediately forgetting about them is not beneficial. Check in with children throughout the day or at a designated time.
As students are working, for instance, you can use their intention as a tool to re-focus them. For instance, say, “I know you set an intention today to lead by example. How have you been doing that so far?” Check-ins prompted by students’ own personal intentions are far more meaningful than check-ins centered around your goals or expectations for students.
During the last five minutes of class, you may ask students to reflect on their intention. For younger children, this can be as simple as circling, “I did it!” or, “Oops, I’ll try again tomorrow.” Older children can free-write about how they did with their intention, how it felt, what they might do differently next time, etc.
With your own children, you might want to have a conversation about their daily intention as you tuck them into bed at night. Whatever process you use, checking in and encouraging ongoing reflection is key.
As children practice living intentionally and focusing on their guiding principles, they learn more about themselves and lead more focused, thoughtful, and productive lives.
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