Setting attainable goals & letting kids bask in their own successes!

If you’ve ever watched a pediatric physical therapy session, you will often see us putting a toy or desired object just out of a child’s grasp so they are inspired to roll, crawl, walk, scoot, or reach for it. Setting up the environment this way helps us to encourage kids to utilize emerging motor skills and strengthen those skills while building confidence. When we set our environment up, we are always thinking about where the “goalpost” is and whether or not the goal we are setting is attainable for the child at that time. If it seems too hard, we have to adjust the height, distance, or surface where the toy is located so that the child we are working with is working hard but can still be successful!

Setting attainable goals is so important when kids are learning new skills because we want them to build confidence as they are building skill and we want them to enjoy practicing and learning. One way we see kids get really frustrated or discouraged when learning a new skill is when the goalpost is frequently changing as they are working to reach it. An example of the “changing goalpost” that often causes our kiddos to get upset is when they are a new walker, taking unsteady steps to reach mom, dad, or a toy, and who or what they are trying to get to keeps moving backward. We TOTALLY understand the desire to do this, it gets them to walk more, which is good right? While the easy answer would be “Yes, they are walking more”, it is more complex than this. While they are chasing the desired person or object, they are thinking “Gee, I only had to walk that short distance to mom when I started, and I definitely thought I could do this, but now she is getting farther and farther away, and I am getting tired. I don’t know if I can do this anymore.” Even though they definitely CAN do the skill for short distances, their confidence is then starting to decrease, and they may not want to try again because it takes SO MUCH effort to be successful. 

Don’t worry, this is a very easy fix! Say they are a new walker, have them start with a short distance first. Let them reach the object or person they are walking to and then let them play with the toy, hug mom or dad, and revel in the joy of their success with that mobility. Let them feel that joy for a few minutes while playing with the toy or hugging a parent. Then, once they have played for a short time, move the toy and redirect their attention to have them practice the skill again. Maybe even try to place the goalpost a little further next time, building on their ability as their confidence grows. Now they are learning that they can be successful with that motor skill, they are building confidence in it, while also learning that it is a new way of mobility they can use to reach things they want (a win, win, win)! Learning new motor skills takes a lot of patience, but overall the success your child will experience when moving and reaching each goal is worth the wait!

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