• Whole Child Counseling

SMART Social-Emotional IEP and Treatment Goals and Objectives

Let’s discuss S.M.A.R.T. social-emotional IEP goals and treatment goals. These goals can be hard to write since they aren’t always easy to quantify and measure. My goal is to share with you some social-emotional objectives to help you spend less time on documentation and more time doing whatever it is you want! Depending on the child’s developmental level and insight, you’ll want to co-create your goals and objectives collaboratively with the child you are working with. It is a great experience to ask children what they want to work on and then work on the goals together!

SMART IEP and Treatment Goals Versus Objectives

A goal is the longer-term result that you want to achieve by the end of the treatment plan or IEP period. In the case of an IEP it's usually a one year reporting period, but a clinical treatment plan can be a shorter time period, such as 30-90 days or less. Whereas objectives are the smaller, more measurable steps that will help you achieve that goal. I think of goals as areas for broader and longer-term change and objectives are the smaller and more actionable steps that will be obtained to help you meet that bigger goal.

Since social skills, emotions, and behaviors are hard to measure, people most often struggle with writing social and emotional IEP goals, treatment goals, and objectives that are S.M.A.R.T. or

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Time-Limited

For a time-saving bank of SMART IEP and treatment objectives, check out my eBook: Social-Emotional IEP & Treatment Plan Objectives.


A SMART goal or objective is SPECIFIC. Be sure to use clear language rather than writing something broad like, “improve social skills”. It sometimes helps to break the behavior down into parts as well. For example, if you want to see fewer tantrums, pinpoint and describe the specific components that make up that child’s tantrum behavior.

Being more specific with your IEP or treatment goals makes it easier to determine what you will be measuring for the objectives as well. The given conditions and levels of support (such as with visuals, with verbal prompts, independently, etc.) are also areas that can lend more specificity to your goals and objectives. You can also be specific by describing a certain setting you want the behavior to occur in, such as:

SMART IEP Objective Example 1:

To increase self-awareness and emotional identification, Stanley will be able to state how he feels, independently, in a small structured group setting in 3 out of 5 opportunities as evidenced by data log.

You can see that this goal describes the purpose of the goal, what Stanley is expected to do, the level of support, and the specific setting.

Given Condition and Level of Support

It is important to include the given conditions or level of support within your objectives to make them more specific. Sometimes the child would not be able to meet the objective unless these conditions were in place, so including them makes it more realistic as well (see below).

In addition, this level of specificity ensures consistency across settings. If multiple given conditions are needed, you can absolutely include more than one (e.g., “given a visual timer and gestural prompts). Consider the prompt hierarchy when writing these specific objectives as well. If the child is learning a new skill, you will likely provide a high level of support during skill acquisition. You will then fade your prompting as the child gains mastery. (Pezeshkan, n.d.)

For examples and a bank of given conditions and levels of support, check out my eBook: Social-Emotional IEP & Treatment Plan Objectives.


A SMART goal or objective is also MEASURABLE. It can be difficult to do this when you are working on social and emotional issues! Think about who will be responsible for measuring the data and how it will be collected. For most of my objectives, I use data logs with measurement points that I can observe and gather right in the session because I like to gather the data myself. I do not want to rely on other people to remember to gather the data for me and I want to ensure it is carried out with fidelity.

To make an objective measurable, you might include specifiers such as in 3 out of 4 opportunities or 9 out of 10 scenarios. You could also add specifiers such as a certain amount of time per day or per week, or for a certain amount of minutes.

SMART Treatment Objective Example 1

Raquel will demonstrate the ability to take turns with an object for 3 or more minutes at a time, given a visual timer and verbal reminders, in 4 out of 5 opportunities as demonstrated by data log and observation.

You can also make the objective measurable by adding a certain task that needs to be performed by a certain date.

SMART Treatment Objective Example 2

To increase knowledge and use of coping skills, by February 5, 2024, Warren will be able to independently identify at least 4 coping skills to assist with alleviating feelings of depression, in 4 out of 5 scenarios as demonstrated by data log and counselor observation.

There is no guesswork involved here as far as how the data will be measured and who will be doing the measuring.

I will write more about progress monitoring and data collection in a future blog, but this is also a topic I discuss in my book, Skills for Big Feelings: A Guide for Teaching Kids Relaxation, Regulation, and Coping Techniques, which comes with over 20 measurable S.M.A.R.T. objectives!


A SMART goal or objective is ACHIEVABLE. You always want to set your student or clients up for success. If your student is engaging in aggressive behavior 20 times a day, even though it is desired, it is not realistic to write that they will “eliminate 100% of aggressive behavior.” In a situation like this, you might think about reducing (rather than eliminating) either the frequency, duration, or intensity of the particular behavior.

SMART IEP Objective Example 2

Harvey will decrease the frequency of hitting others in school, given verbal and visual reminders, by reducing from 20 incidents per day to 10 or fewer incidents per day for hitting by March 6, 2024, as evidenced by data log and observation.

This is a realistic and achievable goal for the student as they begin to receive interventions targeting this objective and social-emotional support.