EXPERIENCE BAR

Activity Created By:
Adam Mills
Tahirih Moffett

Materials:
The only essential materials required for this exercise are paper and writing materials. However, creativity is highly encouraged and would be well supported with some of the optional materials listed below. Another way this activity could be implemented is to invite the child to recreate experience bars incorporating levels from his or her favorite video games.

Optional Materials:
Colored Construction Paper
Scissors
Markers/Crayons/Colored Pencils/Paints
Glue
Pipe Cleaners
Glitter
Beads

Instructions:
Activity Introduction: Sometimes it can be overwhelming to plan for our future. It can be hard to set realistic goals. Setting goals can be hard particularly when what lies ahead are challenges we have not yet mastered and we might lose sight of those we have mastered in the past. In video games, it is much simpler. Characters in many video games have experience bars or levels which continue to unlock if we continue to fight or complete challenges, even simple ones. The rewards are laid out, and the gamer is constantly reminded of past achievements by the abilities that are unlocked. This simple construct of leveling and experience can be used with clients, and particularly well with children. In this activity, children will be invited to create an experience bar which will demonstrate the “levels” they have already achieved and also what they hope to gain on future “levels.”


  1. The first step is to ask the client how he would view his life in levels (e.g. increments of time). Ask the client to find equivalent increments of time in his or her life (e.g., grades and years).
  2. Next, invite the child to explore what was gained and/or achieved during past levels (e.g., learned to write or made the first friend).
  3. The third step is to set goals for the next levels and the abilities the child might obtain from completing them (e.g., how will you grow).
  4. Next, invite the child to create the experience bar on paper and to label it with the above information and fill in the client’s current progress through the experience bar.
  5. Lastly, integrate discussion about what it would mean to the child if he or she was unable to achieve the goal(s) and how the
child would feel. Facilitate discussion about how the child is valued and important regardless of whether they achieve their goals or not.

Target Population:
Children ages: 10 to 20
Children who are experiencing problems with executive functioning behaviors such as planning and organization as well as poor self-esteem.

Expected Results and Troubleshooting:
For adults and children, goal-setting can be an inflexible process and is often connected to an underlying fear of failure that one will not be as valuable if their goals are not achieved. With children, it is essential for the important adults in their lives (e.g., primary caretakers, extended family, therapists, etc.) to offset the popular culture message that achieving goals is linked to happiness. Rather, adults need to reframe this concept for children toward a more flexible conceptualization of goal-setting that is independent of happiness and worth. Street et al. (2004) conducted a study which examined the relationship between children’s (e.g., ages 10-12 years old) levels of happiness and wellbeing to “conditional goal setting” (CGS). The authors asserted that “CGS describes commitment toward an important goal resulting from a conception that happiness is an end-point achieved through the attainment of this goal” (p.155). They found that children whose happiness was dependent on the outcome of achievements experienced depression. On the other hand, non-depressed children tended to view happiness as independent of their goal achievement and failure (Street et al., 2004). Given the results of this study, children’s psychological health is supported by framing goal-setting from a strengths-based perspective. This means that children’s past achievements (even seemingly “small” ones) should be acknowledged and used to motivate them to continue working towards their goals while simultaneously teaching them about unconditional worth.

Furthermore, the process of goal-setting, as with this experience bar activity, needs to include discussion around inherent strengths of the child that are independent of goal achievement. This allows space for “failure” to be conceptualized as a growth opportunity rather than an inherent flaw of the child. Williams (2014) stated that “the brain is wired to seek rewards and avoid pain or discomfort, including fear. When fear of failure creeps into the mind of the goal setter, it becomes a ‘demotivator.’ The experience bar activity is an opportunity to help children visualize their past achievements and future goals and to develop a healthy relationship with their achievements and failures; thereby improving motivation and self-efficacy.

Related Works:
Street, H., Nathan, P., Durkin, K., Morling, J., Dzahari, M.A., Carson, J., & Durkin, E. (2004). Understanding the relationships between well-being, goal-setting, and depression in children. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 38, 155-161.

Williams, R. (2014). Why goal setting doesn’t work. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201407/why-goal-setting-doesnt-work