All parents want their kids to be successful. They want their kids to be independent, self-reliant, functioning adults that can make their own way in the world. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the kids will grow up to be rich, but that they will be able to handle their own affairs, live independently of their parents, hold down gainful employment, and make smart decisions. It means that they will be able to make the most out of whatever money and opportunities they encounter along the way.
To that end, many parents believe that the right school education will ensure success in later life. They fret over school and curriculum choices and pay hefty fees for private education and tutoring. However, only a small part of what makes a person successful is learned in the classroom. Much of what we need to know to be successful, contributing adults is learned at home. Obviously, not every kid is the same and what works for one may not work another. But, generally, there are some things that parents can do that will help prepare their kids for success.
Teach them about money
If kids are to be financially successful they have to learn about money. There are a huge number of ways to accomplish this. It can start as early as their first piggy bank and continue through to the games that they play. Most schools don’t teach money skills, so it’s up to the parents to model good money behavior and educate their kids about money management.
Teach them about work and build a work ethic
Many kids grow without a realistic idea about what goes on in the work world. If they encounter work for the first time after high school or college, it can be overwhelming. Instead, introduce them to it gradually. Take them to work with you and insist that they get part-time jobs while still in school. Even volunteer work or an internship can teach them about what to expect. Also, teach them how to work hard and do a good job on whatever task they tackle. Show them that there are consequences for half-baked efforts and encourage them to do more than they are asked to do. Employees who succeed in the workplace are the ones who go above and beyond and who do a good job, not the ones who rush through everything and head home early.
Teach them to get along with others
Kids need to get along with others, and not just so they’ll have friends in school. When they get into the workforce, they will have to get along with people who aren’t like them.They need to know how to “make nice” with everyone, even if they’d rather not.
Teach them how to stand up for themselves
“Making nice” with others doesn’t mean being a doormat. Kids need to learn how to speak up and let others know when there is a legitimate problem. This doesn’t mean getting into a fight or bullying others, but it does mean learning how to say, “Enough is enough” and mean it. Sometimes at work there will be people who try to take advantage or beat others down and your kid needs to learn how to stand up for their rights.
It’s a fine line to walk between being a nice person and not getting trampled upon, but it’s something you can teach your kids when they have problems with other kids or teachers. The trick is to teach them how to stand up when there is a legitimate problem versus simply complaining about something they don’t like.
Teach them to read for pleasure and knowledge
The more kids read, the greater their literacy skills. The more literate they are, the easier everything becomes in life.
Everyone needs to learn how to take criticism, evaluate it, and incorporate it into their work. This doesn’t mean you have to be mean for no reason, but if something can be done better, it’s okay to point that out to a kid. You can do it constructively and soften the blow by telling them the positives along with the negatives. Simply telling a kid that everything they do is perfect does them a disservice. If a kid never hears criticism from a parent, the first time it comes from a boss or professor is going to be devastating and they aren’t going to know how to react.
Allow them to make mistakes
No one is perfect. Kids need to be allowed to make mistakes. Sometimes it’s the big screw ups that teach us the most. That doesn’t mean you have to let them do something dangerous, but sometimes you have to let them do things their way so they can see why it won’t work and then learn to fix it or live with the consequences. Most mistakes can be fixed, but that’s not a skill you learn if someone is always protecting you.
You don’t have to spank a kid to punish them, but kids do need to learn that certain actions have consequences. Not all behavior is acceptable and they need to learn that before they enter the “real world” and a boss punishes them by firing them.
Let them play
Many parents believe that everything must be a structured activity or lesson. But there is value in free play. Running around outside and discovering nature, building with Legos, or making up stories with dolls fosters creativity and independence, both skills that are needed in the adult world. If everything is structured, a kid never learns to think for himself or to occupy his downtime.
Let them ask questions
And answer them. Kids learn by asking questions. As a parent, some of them may seem ridiculous or repetitive, but don’t discourage the questions. Always answer questions and if you don’t know, take the time to find the answer with your kid. Letting them ask questions as kids makes them more comfortable when they need to ask questions as an adult. If a kid grows up with a fear of questioning others, they’re likely to agree to things they don’t understand and put themselves in situations that aren’t right for them. A simple question can save a lot of trouble later.
Let them pursue their interests, not yours
Some parents want their kids to do the same activities that the parents enjoy. That’s fine, up to a point. There’s no harm in exposing kids to many different activities and encouraging them to participate with the rest of the family. But if the kid starts showing a strong preference for other activities, let them pursue them. People are more successful when following their passions than when doing what they “should” or are expected to do.
Let them challenge themselves and fail
Sometimes a kid will want to tackle an activity that you know they aren’t prepared for. As long as there’s no danger, let them do it rather than talking them out of it. A kid who takes on a challenge and fails learns his limits and learns that there is specific preparation and skill required for some things. Maybe he’ll try again and do better next time, having learned some lessons, or he’ll learn that the activity just wasn’t his thing. Failure isn’t a bad thing. We learn a lot through failure. Handling the disappointment, learning how to do better, or learning even when and why to simply give up are all lessons that have to be learned through experience.
Teach them how to motivate themselves
A lot of parents offer external rewards like cash for good grades or chores done around the house. While that probably works, it’s not teaching kids how to find their own motivation and to take satisfaction in a job well done. If the external reward is more important to the kid than the reward of a good grade or a clean room, they don’t learn how to do things on their own. In life there are a lot of tasks we don’t want to do but for which we have to find the motivation to get them done. If you’re always relying on the “reward” to make it tolerable, life is going to be hard because there aren’t always rewards involved, other than those you get for doing the job well.
Parents often don’t like to refuse their children, but there will be plenty of “no’s” throughout your kids’ life. A college won’t admit them or an interview won’t result in a job offer. A boss will say, “No” to a request for vacation. Kids have to learn that sometimes wanting something isn’t enough. A kid who can’t accept “No” graciously is going to have a hard time handling life’s disappointments.
Teach them to participate, not to just sit back and watch
In so many sports leagues and activities these days, every kid gets a trophy regardless of whether or not they really put forth any effort. In the real world, not everyone is a VIP. The ones who really get in there and participate are the ones who get the glory, not those who sit back and watch. Teach kids to put in the effort, even if they can “succeed” without doing much. Everyone may still get a trophy, but your kid will know it was because he worked and contributed to the effort.
Ask “What’s next?”
When a kid has done something like complete a project, finished a book, or learned a piece of music, ask them, “What’s next?” This isn’t to push them beyond their limits, but to encourage them to challenge themselves and engage with things more deeply. Maybe “What’s next” is a harder piece of music or one in a different genre. Maybe it’s another book on the same topic, but written from a different perspective. Maybe it’s to redo a science project that didn’t work out as planned. Successful people are always looking for the next challenge, for a way to look at things differently or to move beyond their current understanding of something.
Teach them empathy
It’s important to be able to understand why others feel the way they do. Empathy is also called the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” A person who can understand why another is upset, hurt, or disappointed can better work with that person to solve a problem. It’s easier to lead people when you can understand what drives them and what holds them back. Empathy is a key quality of leaders and successful people. It also makes you a better friend, spouse or partner.
Don’t let them coast. It’s fine if the kid wants to read Harry Potter ten times in a row, but find a way to challenge them to read something else. Once a kid has mastered one piece of music, challenge them to learn the next. Challenge them to take local music lessons and learn a new instrument. Some kids are always looking for the next challenge naturally but if yours does not, find ways to push them a little further. You don’t want to push them to the breaking point, but you do want to push them to exceed what they thought they could do. Sure, it might not work out but when it does, the kid has learned a powerful lesson about how you can overcome what you think you cannot do.
Teach them to think critically
One of the challenges in a world where every fact or answer to a question is just a click away is teaching kids how to think through a problem, evaluate sources of information for credibility, and make an informed decision. Instead of just taking things at face value or believing it because it’s on the Internet, kids need to learn how to separate the garbage from the facts and develop their own opinions and solutions to problems.
Of course there are examples of children who were never taught these skills and yet managed to succeed in spite of absent or poor parenting. There are exceptions to everything. Generally, though, the kids who grow up to be successful adults have many of these lessons instilled in them from a young age.
All of these skills take time to teach. A kid isn’t going to learn empathy in one afternoon, for example. The parent has to put in the time and take advantage of all of life’s “teachable moments” in order to raise successful kids. It’s not something that can be pawned off to the school system. Schools can teach kids how to read, write, and do math, but it’s mostly up to the parents to educate kids on how to be successful in life.
(Photo courtesy of danesparza)