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Goal-directed persistence is the ability to formulate and commit to a goal that is followed through to completion despite distractions or competing interests.

Children with poor goal-directed persistence is easily distracted and derailed by another interest. They may lose focus and motivation because they get bored or give up on a challenging task. They may be able to initiate a task and be motivated initially, but something else always seems to come up that piques their interest more. Even when it is completed, they quickly move onto another activity or task without checking first that it is done accurately and thoroughly. Sometimes, they give up too easily or get help before trying themselves.

The key elements to improve goal-directed persistence is to set and manage specific goals and motivate your child. With specific goals and motivation, including a schedule that breaks a complex task into manageable parts, your child will find it much more rewarding to persist in order to achieve the final goal. They will have a better grasp on their progress and time required, and be more enthusiastic to work on their own without outside prompts or pressure.

What do I do to help my child improve her/his goal-directed persistence skill?

Select one or two issues that your teen seems to have with goal-directed persistence. Maybe she does not spend enough time working on a hard problem in order to get it completed, lose interest easily, do not review completed assignments, or fail to listen to instructions beforehand. If needed, use the questionnaire scores as a reference. Define the issues that need improvement as specific as possible, noting the frequency, severity, and consequences. Also, consider whether there is a common antecedent or trigger, what the typical situation is and who is involved. Formulate a goal for each issue. Break it up into smaller goals if possible.

Before you start with the intervention, sit down with your child and explain the problem, process, and importance of achieving the goals that you have set. Ask your child for input in setting goals and plans for improvement. Make her feel empowered in the process. Improving your teen’s goal-directed persistence is a structured approach that requires constantly reviewing tasks, breaking them into smaller parts, setting a schedule, and motivating your child with the target of getting everything done well. As soon as this becomes a habit, supervision can be faded. Benefits will be noticeable in goal-directed persistence and related skills.

To improve goal-directed persistence, the following steps can be taken to increase motivation and manage expectations:

  1. Identify a specific problem (e.g. Grace loses interest midway in tasks).
  2. Formulate a specific behavioral objective (e.g. to improve Grace’s task persistence to completion).
  3. Consider whether any environmental changes may support the goal (e.g. set up an activities progress chart and provide inputs).
  4. Choose a potentially problematic task and break it up into smaller parts.
  5. Meet with your child to discuss and set goals for the task and each part.
  6. Agree to a schedule and criteria, and decide on a reward.
  7. Make the objectives and motivation clear (e.g. Grace wants to become a veterinarian; the biology assignment helps her build relevant knowledge).
  8. Monitor, chart her progress and provide positive feedback and encouragement.

Always remember to set clear and achievable goals and monitor and provide regular feedback in a systematic routine.