The secret to proper goal setting is in the words you use.

GoalsThe road to your goals is littered with “should’s” and “must’s”. The key to reaching those goals, including raising your children, is avoiding the “should’s” and stick to the “must’s.”

At several seminars, I’ve heard the speakers say “Don’t should all over yourself.” Telling your children what they should have done is counterproductive. There is nothing they can do to change the past. Using the word “should” forces them to relive the negative incident by reminding them of their mistake.

When you admonish your children by telling them what they should have done, you are not giving them any options. They can not go back and change the past and you are not giving them a way to fix the future. You should be teaching your children a lesson at the same time punishment is given. Give them a way to take positive action and learn responsibility.

For example, if you child comes home with a failure on a test and admits that he or she did not study, simply saying “You should have studied,” does nothing to help the situation.

Instead of forcing them to relive their mistake by using should, decide on a punishment that helps them learn from their mistake and improve their grade. Maybe they will not be allowed out on school nights or have to study for a certain amount of time every night. You might make them stay after school to get a tutor instead of playing basketball with their friends.

When the next test rolls around and they do well, they will see that their mistake was in not studying. Not only that, but it will also help improve their grade in the long run, tying the punishment into future accomplishment.

Another danger in using should is when telling your children what to do. Look at the difference between telling them “You should eat your vegetables,” and “You must eat your vegetables.” Saying should makes the order seem like a suggestion. Children feel as if they have the option to disregard the advice. Saying that they must eat the vegetables leaves no room for uncertainty. The child does not have to worry about whether to eat the vegetables or not. The decision has already been made by a wise parent.

Parents need to use must not only when talking to children but also when talking to themselves. Don’t think to yourself, “I should really get to the gym,” when you are trying to get in shape. Sure, you should, but you don’t want to. Saying should leaves plenty of room for making excuses.

For example, “I should really get to the gym, but I had a really long day at work.” What you are not thinking of the moment you drive on past the gym is the first sunny day of summer when you make it to the beach and then feel self-conscious in your bathing suit. Then you will regret all the times you did not make it to the gym. Saying that you should have done something can make you feel frustrated.

If you remember to use must, there is no room to reason yourself out of it. “I must get to the gym.” It doesn’t become a possibility if you have time; it adds the trip to the gym to the to-do list. Instead of making exercise an obligation or a duty, make it a necessity.

Using should gives you and your children a crutch for not getting done the things you want to get done. Anything that you think you should do, you can do—if you put your mind to it. Set every goal with a must.

What are your goals for 2015? Let us know in the comments below!