Why, How, Who, When, Where, and What?

As the twig is bent, the tree inclines.

- Virgil, lived 70 - 19 B.C.

It’s fun to work with children as they recognize and set their goals. They learn the skills of organizing and planning the steps necessary to obtain a goal. It’s good to emphasize what kind of person we will become in the process.  What kind of person will we be once we have achieved our goal?  Our goals help to make us the kind of people we are. We live in a society where people are admired and treated with respect based upon what they achieve in terms of money, power, possessions or fame. Unfortunately, because of this, many children grow up with the attitude that all that matters is having things and “being somebody.” They forget the why, how, what, when, where, and who.

Alec Esparza and I co-taught a week-end workshop. When he speaks, children give him undivided attention. What they hear when they listen to Alec is not just his words, but his caring and his experience. When he talks with them about goals he begins with a clarification of:

  • “What do I value?”
  • “What will it cost me to do this?”
  • “What will it cost me if I don’t do it?”

Write down your dream. Put it on your bathroom mirror, in the kitchen, and on your closet door. Know that every day you make choices about that dream. If you make a choice to quit school, to take drugs, or to join a gang…you are throwing away your dream. You have choices. Only you can decide who you are. You have the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ You are responsible for who you become. Always remember that you are never alone, and it’s ok to ask for help when you need it.

- Alec Esparza
Gang Prevention Program Specialist

Joyce Luke is a teacher within The Ada County Juvenile Detention Center in Boise, Idaho. She is an extraordinary teacher! Her effectiveness is a good balance of respect, discipline, rules and love.

I enjoyed working with her.

When kids are in a negative situation, to turn their lives around and focus on a positive goal, what they need is:

  • Good role models with strong personalities
  • Safe places and safe people
  • Supportive opportunities to discover who they are
  • They have to learn new ways of obtaining what they want
  •  Consistent positive discipline…there is a big difference between discipline and punishment
  •  Someone who cares about them, encourages them, believes in them, and holds them accountable

Compliments and positive reinforcement are invaluable. The kids need to see appropriate behavior modeled. Showing them respect and courtesy works. When I ask them to do things, I thank them. 90% of the time, within two or three days, they start thanking me and each other.

When they interpret and process information about who they are and what life is, their background knowledge is not sufficient to allow them to change. To add to their background knowledge, they need something positive and different. They need to experience something they have never experienced before. Something new, a new game with new rules, will break the pattern, the mindset, so they can think differently. Our Idaho Police Officers take the boys from detention out Bass fishing. It has had a profound effect on some of the boys. It changed their mindset about Police Officers.

- Joyce Luke - Boise, Idaho
Teacher, Ada County Juvenile Detention Center


1) What …Define exactly what the goal is?  

2) Why…Why do we want to be a certain person or have a certain thing? Usually the basis of this is the desire for a specific feeling. To feel secure, to feel safe, to feel happy, to feel loved and valuable.

3) How …More important than what we will achieve, are the means by which we achieve it.

  • Will we achieve it by our own hard work and honesty? What are the first three steps?
  • Will we take dishonest short cuts, or hurt other people or ourselves to get there?

In addition to feeling lovable and worthy, children need to feel capable. Children need to feel a sense of responsible achievement in order to develop high self-esteem and to develop and use their full potential. They need to have the courage to not take short cuts in an effort to achieve a specific feeling. Short cuts are using drugs, alcohol, cheating, stealing, lying, or joining a gang. There is a generation of at-risk kids who feel dead-ended and need goal setting skills.

I had the privilege of meeting Wally Amos, our National Spokesman for the “Literacy Volunteers of America.” (Famous Amos Cookies) Wally is a man with a soft spot for any child in need. While my family and I lived in Orange County, California, we had a “Make-a-Wish Foundation,” family staying with us. We lived near Disneyland, and their wish was “Disneyland.” The family was from Hawaii. I asked the little girl if she had another wish. She said she would like to meet Wally Amos. He had been a great inspiration to her and she knew he lived in Hawaii. I immediately called Wally and told him her story. He stopped everything he was doing and talked with her on the phone. He arranged a happy meeting with her and her family when she returned to Hawaii. Wally also went with her to her school as her guest, and talked with the kids. He prioritized his goals.

Wally is a dynamic, resourceful and positive man. He has been generous with his time, advising and inspiring me in my work over the years. His many adventures and accomplishments include founding, “Famous Amos Cookies,” “Uncle Noname’s Cookies,” and the “Chip and Cookie” line of children’s products. Wally is a determined goal setter. When he speaks of goals, he places the focus upon “who we become” in the process.

4) Who …“Who we become” is much more important than what we accomplish. Who we are inside is the basis of our own happiness. We influence the happiness or suffering of those around us. Healthy self-esteem cultivates happiness. Happy youths are not the ones who become involved in drugs and gangs. Again…who we become is much more important than what we accomplish. It can happen that by the time someone has achieved wealth and success they have lost a valuable part of themselves.

5) When …A goal needs current activity and a deadline or it’s only a daydream…a fleeting idea.

6) Where …Decide the location for the beginning and the accomplishment of the goal.

 A Nation In Crisis–Children “At-Risk”

I overheard the children at an elementary school discussing a child they called “the Fly.” I thought, “Oh, ‘the Fly,’ what a terrible nickname for a child. Maybe she leaps off tables and pretends to fly, or maybe she makes buzzing sounds.” I asked them why they called her “the Fly.” They said it was because she was always hungry and rummaged through the garbage cans after lunch, looking for food.

Teaching children goal setting skills is more essential than ever before.  At least 21 percent of the children in the U.S. live in poverty and the number is rapidly rising.

Our nation is in a crisis that is out-of-control. In the past two decades, child poverty in the United States has increased by 46.8 percent and continues to rise dramatically.

- Dr. John Cook, Tufts University, Boston, MA
The Center on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition Policy

As a nation have we lost sight of the value of our children, and misplaced our priorities? Many of our children don’t seem to have vision, hope, or the social skills and life skills to lift themselves up. We haven’t given them these qualities and skills. Most children growing up in poverty see the dead-ends. They assume that is all there is for them.

When I was in India in 1980, I remember thinking, “I am so thankful that we don’t have starving children in America, and people lying down to die on the streets while onlookers walk around their bodies.” I was unexposed and uninformed. I didn’t understand the depth of the problem. I know I can’t fix it all. We each have our “Territory of influence.”

I remember a song I learned as a little girl, “Brighten the corner where you are.” We all have our corner, and if we choose we can try to keep it bright for ourselves and others.

Many of these forgotten children see the significant adults in their lives irresponsibly trying to handle problems with drugs, alcohol, violence, and blaming others for their own choices.

Bill Beacham and I co-taught a conference for at-risk kids. He has a big heart to match his exceptional abilities. I sure enjoyed working with him.

When children are in the survival mode they think dreams are a luxury. Last week a little girl told me, ‘My family is too poor to have dreams.’ My immediate reaction was that I wanted to fix it! Now! This is not my role. You and I can offer them something greater. In the immediacy of the moment we are probably not capable of changing their environment, but we can give them skills. We are all going to have up-sides and downsides. It’s how we deal with the down-sides that will make the difference.

- Bill Beacham, Psychologist
Consultant to the Olympic Committee, Founder and Director of The Center For Drug-Free Communities

Teaching children, especially “at-risk” children, goal-setting skills can be miraculous! They become awake to all possibilities. These simple step-by-step procedures are tools that will give them direction for their entire lives. A simple short-term goal may be to make a new friend, to pass a math test, to get to school on time. They begin to see that to get from point “A” to point “D” there are steps in-between.

The problems with low self-esteem and the lack of goal setting skills are:

  • Not knowing what we want, or that there are choices
  • Not knowing how to start, or being afraid to start…not starting
  • Getting frustrated with start/stop incompletion
  • Trying to take short cuts. A short cut in this case is cheating, stealing, lying
  • Giving up, feeling like a failure, lacking the incentive to keep going or to try again.

Understanding the mechanics of a goal, with plans and step-by-step procedures, can give children something to hold on to, no matter what is going on in their lives.

Dreams, Hopes, and Goals

Walt Disney was an adamant goal-setter. He started with a dream, and hope. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and be. He had the ability to hold onto a goal. He kept starting over, no matter how impossible others told him it was.

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

- Emerson

We are what we repeatedly do.

- Aristotle

My younger sister, Shirley, had a dream from the time she was three years old. She loved horses. She drew pictures of them, raced around the house on all fours, whinnying, rearing and emulating horse behavior. The owner of a large cattle ranch took a special interest in Shirley because of her love for horses. The ranch owner arranged for Shirley to have a two-year old, long-legged beautiful Paint. The horse had lived running free. When first corralled, this horse was wild-eyed, half-crazy with fear, and desperate to escape. Shirley loved her horse, named her “Patches,” and spent every free moment with her.

In time, with the unshakable love and patience of a small child, this wild horse, became as gentle as a kitten. Shirley trained Patches with kindness. Shirley intuitively knew what to do. She did not believe in using force or pain to train horses. We used to find little Shirley sleeping, cuddled next to Patches’ stomach, between the front and back legs. With the touch of Shirley’s finger, a soft word, or the position of her body, Patches responded to “stop,” “go” and “turn.” Shirley rode Patches in competitive rodeo barrel racing events. As the years passed, Patches became the horse on which Shirley’s children Melody and Clinton, learned to ride.

Patches gave Shirley a goal…to live in the mountains, to have a ranch with lots of animals, and to raise horses. The unconditional love of that horse, helped Shirley survive some difficult challenges and to hold on to a lifetime goal. Patches lived to be 24 years old. Some of her descendants are in Shirley and Roger’s beautiful herd of Paints. Their family and their horses live near the Idaho/Montana border. Looking out her window one can see the Continental Divide. I have always admired Shirley’s determination and strength.

The human race is governed by its imagination.

- Napoleon

When learning about goals, the 1…2…3…steps, help children understand a delay in a goal as being necessary. Delayed gratification is not something that most children understand or want, especially if they cannot see satisfaction as being clearly available.

When children understand and are hopeful that they might succeed, they will try harder. 

Children need to see their goals within reach. Ask them, “What dreams would you reach for, what goals would you set…if you were not afraid of failing?”

  • With understanding, goal setting and step-by-step planning, their dreams become more real.
  • They begin to get a practical sense of what is required of them.
  • They get a clear picture of what they need to do to reach a goal.

Well begun is half done?

- Aristotle

I’ve never been afraid to fail. I’m strong enough to accept failure. I will not accept not trying. If I fail, I know I put the effort there.

- Michael Jordan

Excerpt from Bully Prevention Character Development Program © – Dianna L. Pappas-Marchese