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Goal-setting can help children make the most of summer vacation

Will your children have a busy and rewarding summer? Or will they drift through the weeks ahead, complaining that "there's nothing to do"? Not all children are blessed with ambition and intiative; many will need the assistance of a caring adult. What can you do to help?

Why not encourage your youngsters to view summer vacation as many do the new year? Help them make a resolution -- or a set of them. With younger children you will undoubtedly guide most of the planning. Older children can -- and should -- be actively involved in such decisions. Time spent in planning yields high dividends in action.

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Most resolutions fail because they are too general, unrealistic, or overly rigid. With a little foresight, you can help your children avoid these pitfalls. Help them set attainable goals geared to their specific needs. Remind them to compete with their prior achievements, not with the achievements of others. (Agressive competition comes later -- when skills are mastered.)

Though you probably have a good idea of your children's interests, it's wise to discuss this issue with them. Find out what areas they'd like to focus on and the results they hope to accomplish. Would your son like to improve his pitching? (This is probably more realistic than aiming to be No. 1 in the league.) Would your daughter like to place in swimming competition? Would your children like to earn a certain amount of money? Acquire new friends? Learn new skills? Make up for weaknesses in scholastic areas?

To ensure greater motivation, the plan should reflect the needs and desires of the children involved, not their parents. Those coerced into music lessons, foreign language instruction, rigorous campouts, or other activities which threaten them or make them feel incompetent, are likely to withdraw emotionally -- if not physically.

Many schools employ student contracts as part of indidivualized teaching. The same principle, though less structured, can be used for summer planning. Children can set goals for themselves, with subgoals to be met by certain dates. This will enable them to assume responsibility for themselves. It also relieves the parent who feels she (or he) must keep amusing the family.

When such a program is followed, both parents and children notice the results. Small, steady gains not only increase children's competence in particular skill areas, but boost their general level of selfesteem. Thus they begin the new school year with a more positive self-image. What better gift can a summer yield?

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