How Can I Write SMART Goals for Behavior Problems?

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SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-framed. When you have a behavior problem like autism or ADHD it can be difficult to know where to start with your goals because the symptoms often don’t give an exact roadmap of what you should do next. You will want to create SMART goals so that you are clear on exactly what needs to happen in order for your desired outcome

A “smart goal” is a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely goal that is written with the person’s social skill in mind. Smart goals are not vague or general, but rather they have specific steps to be completed.

One of the most difficult challenges when addressing bad behavior in the classroom or developing a student’s IEP is coming up with meaningful and quantifiable objectives. The optimum results for the learner must be achieved by special education specialists, instructors, and therapists using the information they have about the student. Using SMART objectives is one strategy to make the process of creating goals more manageable (and more successful for students).

How do SMART objectives work?

The phrase SMART stands for creating IEP objectives with a clear path to accomplishment.

The acronym SMART is an acronym for:

S – Specific – SMART objectives are intended to promote or reduce a certain target behavior. The objective must to be specific and include a description of the results.

M – Measurable – SMART objectives also include precise measurement standards for the desired behavior. Different stakeholders, such as parents, teachers, paraprofessionals, or non-special education professionals, should be able to interpret the objective and assess it in the same manner if the aim involves observable metrics.

A – Attainable and Realistic It’s important to develop behavior objectives that are doable or feasible. Unrealistic expectations or objectives that are inappropriate for a specific child’s stage of development are likely to fail.

R: Relevant. SMART behavior objectives concentrate on matters that are important to the kid, the parents, and the classroom. Instead than putting too much emphasis on cryptic evaluations or fulfilling inflated educational standards, goals should be developed with each child’s individual needs in mind.

Finally, SMART behavior objectives are time-bound and include start and finish timeframes. Setting a target date for the goal’s completion and knowing when progress toward the goal should start provide better progress tracking and accountability.

Samples of SMART Objectives

It becomes immediately clear why SMART objectives are better at assisting kids in achieving results once you look at SMART goals for IEPs and special education classrooms. Think about two instances of a less successful aim and how the same objective may be expressed differently:

This year, Sam will make more pals on the playground.

Sam will start playing with at least two separate classmates during a 15-minute break and continue playing with at least one of them without assistance from an adult. By the conclusion of the semester, Sam will have achieved this goal on four out of five recess observations.

When I ask Lila to do anything, she won’t get so irate.

When given a directive or instruction by her instructor, Lila will carry it out in the same amount of time allocated to her classmates, or she will politely request assistance from the teacher to finish the work. During her three one-hour classroom inspections, Lila will achieve this goal on 90% of the instructions delivered.

How to Create SMART Goals for IEPs and Behavior Goals for Special Education

There are noticeable distinctions between SMART objectives and ordinary goals when they are compared side by side. Writing SMART objectives, however, requires skill and practice. Consider using the following procedures when converting generic objectives into SMART goals for the first time:

  1. Watch the youngster. Although it would seem apparent, many special education professionals are given the duty of establishing IEP objectives with little to no time spent actually observing the kid. Before you start writing objectives, find out when the behaviors happen and schedule time to observe.  
  2. Examine pertinent records, such as the functional behavior analysis (FBA). You’ll need to have some knowledge about the child’s past in order to create SMART objectives. Examining case files may provide important details regarding the measurement standards used to earlier objectives, the applicability of future goals, and the probable reachability of your anticipated goals.
  3. Talk to the important players. It’s crucial to schedule time to interview key stakeholders including parents, teachers, paraprofessionals, and other therapy experts like speech and OT as part of developing SMART objectives for IEPs and the classroom. The most relevant objective will focus on the reaction in that particular context if the problematic behavior only happens there.
  4. Amass baseline information. You’ll need to gather some baseline information throughout your observations, just as with any behavior target. Since it helps define the boundaries for how you’ll evaluate the behavior change and where to place the achievable criteria, baseline data becomes particularly important for SMART objectives. It’s difficult to describe the aim precisely without knowing how often or for how long a given activity occurs.


For certain objectives, it can be required to watch and gather data on the whole class or other peers in addition to the learner’s baseline data. Writing goals should be as realistic in terms of progress as feasible. It would not be developmentally acceptable to ask a 2-year-old to write a five-paragraph essay, for instance. Goals should, wherever feasible, be written to correspond with classmates’ expectations (e.g., if peers in the classroom talk out of turn 3-4 times per day, writing a goal to speak out of turn 0 times per day may not be relevant or attainable.)

  1. Set a beginning and an end date for the timeframe. Create a concept of a reasonable timeframe to achieve the objective as soon as you get a feel of the baseline behavior levels. While certain objectives could be constrained by set limits, such as school year or IEP deadlines, others might not. To achieve the objective, decide on a beginning point and an ending timeline.
  2. What tactics may be used to stop this habit, you ask? When creating SMART objectives, start thinking about potential techniques and interventions as well. Sometimes, in order to reduce one behavior (violence, for example), another behavior must also be increased (e.g., using an iPad to request). The formulation of a secondary or related SMART objective may then be required. A goal has the maximum chance of success when the necessary tactics are developed simultaneously.
  3. Inquire: How will I know when this objective has been accomplished? You should write down your objectives as well as think about what the “finished product” may include. How will you know whether the youngster is currently doing at a satisfactory level? Does the youngster behave similarly to the other students in the classroom? Does the kid exhibit improvements of 25%, 50%, or 100%?

Making milestones or markers along the route might be useful when creating a SMART goal after you have an end result in mind. These milestones should also adhere to sensible criteria, which means that even when you are halfway to achieving the overall objective, you should still have a concrete and quantifiable milestone to use as a benchmark. A more effective SMART goal may be created if you are aware of the milestones you’ll utilize to gauge your progress along the way.

  • Draft the objective. It’s time to write when you’ve observed, created a baseline, and brainstormed about the timetable, techniques, and milestones for a goal. Pick a distraction-free period to outline your objectives at. After a few hours, put completed objectives away and return to them. Sometimes reevaluating SMART objectives later might result in adjustments and modifications that eventually result in SMART goals being more accurate and beneficial to the kid.
  • Have a reliable coworker go through the objective. Finally, having someone else examine your SMART objectives is usually beneficial. A third party who is less acquainted with the student or the classroom might provide insightful input if you’re concerned if an objective is defined and measurable. If they provide the same helpful criticism for your personal goals, volunteer to be a “IEP goal reviewer” for a coworker or colleague.

Finally, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the IEP process is designed to be consultative and collaborative as you create SMART objectives. There is no one-size-fits-all method for helping kids write goals and complete SMART objectives. Include other interested parties, compile as much data as you can, and get input whenever you can. You will only be able to create stronger objectives and see improved student achievements with the aid of these techniques and actions.

Amy Sippl

Behavior Analysis in Applied Settings | Saint Cloud State University

Psychology Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) | University of Minnesota

April 2020

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