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Listing Priorities
Step One: The Cognitive Aspect of Prioritizing
The first step towards goal setting may involve the cognitive aspect of “Prioritizing”. This is a cognitive concept that many adults struggle with on a daily basis. When working with clients and their families on this topic, I am very careful to talk about “priorities” (or those “must do’s down to the “want to”) as seen through the parent’s eyes and then those identified through the kid’s eyes.  A kid’s perspective as to what is “most important” will be different than an adult’s; and that does not mean their priority is wrong.

We talk about giving different priorities a “weight”; we need to make it tangible for kids and adults alike.  If there is something that is of “high priority” we may give that an “elephant weight”.  Something that in our perspective is of lesser priority, we will relate that to the weight of a smaller animal. For older students in middle school and high school, you can use more of a number system (1= lesser priority – 10= highest priority).

Create a list of priorities with your son/daughter based on your “weights” and their perceived weights.  Find commonalities and places where you both can be flexible in terms of possibility modifying a priority. Structure the process by saying there needs to be priorities related to: 1)  health, 2) home, and 3) fun. For younger kids you will have to really define what you mean by each of these categories. Have this conversation during a low stress time in a calm and familiar environment.  It is very important to list the priorities out in a way that provides direction but does not increase anxiety over not achieving the priority or goal.

For the one’s I have set with clients so far this year, we have used the phrase, “I will work to the best of my ability to ________.”  Many of my clients have noted that they don’t respond well with parents (and teachers) use the phrase “have to”, as that creates a sense of anxiety and frustration. Think about if your son/daughter would do better discussing this list in a 1:1 setting or with his/her siblings around.  This activity is something that can be added to AND changed over time, as our “weights” to priorities and goals will change.

Wow!! For some just getting through the prioritizing stage would be an amazing goal!!  Now that you have your priority outlined, choose one to two to start working towards.  Trying to tackle more than 2 goals at a time may lead to cognitive overload and more frustration than anything.   There are many aspects of executive functioning that actually goes into this goal setting process such as working memory, initiating, and inhibition. It’s really important to consider these aspects when thinking about helping your son/daughter/student set goals for the New Year.

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Chris, Director of the Social Learning Center at Benhaven, holds a Graduate Certificate from the University of Massachusetts Lowell in Behavioral Inventions in Autism and is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist & Licensed Professional Counselor with a specialization in Autism Spectrum Disorders and social cognitive interventions. The Social Learning Center is dedicated to learning, understanding, applying and communicating effective methods of social teaching for each individual and those who support them.