Is there a magic formula for how to raise successful children?
What are the common denominators for children who flourish versus those who fail?
In my life, I’ve witnessed some children grow into successful, contributing adults and others fall into the trenches and never seem to recover.
In this post here, I wrote about an adolescent friend who came from a background of abuse, neglect, and poverty. While unfortunate, it was no surprise she grew into an adult who couldn’t overcome her rough upbringing and has already taken steps to repeat the sad cycle with her own children.
On the other hand, we also know children who seemingly came from loving and supportive homes (while not knowing what goes on behind closed doors) who also managed to fall off track.
We’ve also heard of the kids who, despite terrible upbringings, beat the odds and manage to become adults who are financially secure leaders.
As the working mother of two very young girls, I often wonder “what gives?”
And while my children will ultimately make their own decisions, I want to arm them with the best resources and emotional support possible to ensure those decisions are good ones.
Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?
Although there is no such thing as a parenting expert, which I wrote about here, and no absolute way to prevent parenting screw-ups, there must be some commonalities in parenting styles that pushes children toward success.
To learn these denominators, I enlisted the help of four longtime educators.
These educators have taught a range of age groups between preschool and high school and have a combined total of one hundred fifty years of experience.
ONE HUNDRED FIFTY YEARS.
150 years > My five years of experience in
winging it with raising my children.
150 years > My observations of the 18 years my parents raised me.
150 years > My own 35 years of life experience.
These educators have taught children with special needs, troubled youth, and teen moms.
They have also taught children who were go-getters and natural born leaders.
They have students who have been murdered during violent acts and other students who became CEOs.
Most importantly, these educators have been around long enough to see which students have failed and which have succeeded.
We already know that kids whose parents read to them are more likely to succeed.
I wanted something more than that.
I wanted to dig deeper.
Based on their observations, I have compiled these denominators of success that are not always included in lists from parenting magazines, the Internet, and Dr. Phil.
If you want your child to have a better chance at succeeding…
1. Let them Fail. Children will never learn important life lessons when their parents constantly fix grades, do their homework (e.g. “Daddy-Did-It-Science-Fair-Projects”), meddle in their social problems (absent bullying or safety issues), have a fit about not making a sports team, and pout about not being elected to student government office. Children need to learn from their own failures. While it can be hard for parents to watch this happen, sometimes it’s the only way.
2. Encourage them to Self-Advocate. If your child gets a poor score on an exam or project, encourage them to ask the teacher why. If your child is shy, have them read the assignment back to you and explain where they may have gone wrong. Then ask what the teacher’s exact feedback was. Often, these discussions are eye-opening for both the parent and student. The worst thing a parent can do is contact a teacher and accuse the teacher of being unfair or demanding a complete explanation the second the grade appears. Let your child take ownership of the problem and figure out a solution. Of course, if both of you look at the assignment and honestly do not understand, a calmly written email that is non-accusatory works best.
3. Let Teenagers be Teenagers. They do stupid things. They date the “wrong” people. They forget things. Their brains have not fully developed and they do not think clearly. As long as being stupid doesn’t cause bodily injury or trouble with the law, accept that it happens. When it does happen, give appropriate consequences, but not with a life-long label.
4. Limit Social Media and Electronics. Things like social media and texting have hurt the way children interact with each other and with adults. Encourage your children to have emotional intelligence. This means picking up the phone or sending a good “old fashioned” card to a friend for their birthday instead of a text. Teach them to resolve problems in person and not over email or publicly through Facebook. For those who do have social media, know all of their passwords and continuously monitor their profiles. Set firm times on when to unplug electronics in the evenings before bed.
5. Show an Interest in their School, Education, and Interests. Make the time to attend Open House, parent-teacher meetings, school plays, science fairs, field trips, and sporting events. Consider joining the PTA. While this can be more difficult for working parents, make it a priority to show your children that their education and interests are important.
6. Do Not Live Vicariously Through Your Children. Just because you dreamed of being a star quarterback does not mean your son wants to sweat and hang out in the locker room. If your son wants to take theater, so be it. If your daughter wants to play football, make sure she has a chance to do so. Their dreams are theirs; your dreams are yours. See also:
7. Do Not Push Them into Classes. No matter how intelligent your child is, if they say they are not ready for high school classes in middle school or college classes in high school, then let it go. Research is now showing that neither really help and many of these students burn out before they get to college. No matter how ready younger students are academically, very few are ready emotionally. More colleges are saying, “That’s nice you had Spanish I and II in middle school, we still want two years in high school.” Instead of pushing college courses to save money, encourage children to take something that interests them that they will never again get the chance to explore.
8. Have Clear, Concise Rules. Stick to these rules with clear, fair punishment. Children need consistent boundaries.
9. Provide the Presence of Caring Adults. In the age of the Modern Family, this looks like different things. It can be caring parents, grandparents, friends’ parents, coaches, teachers, or church leaders. These adults need to be there to listen, provide guidance, and set developmentally-appropriate expectations. Notably, children who have supportive adults in their lives often have better vocabularies and increased senses of trust.
10. Be Open with Them. Talk about sex, alcohol, drugs, and other difficult subjects. Talk about this some more. If you don’t, their friends will.
11. Exhibit Mutual Respect. While parents need to remember that they are not their children’s friends, they need to give them respect and dignity. Children who feel a sense of respect from their parents will often have respect for themselves.
12. Teach Them Compassion for Others. Successful children are emotionally intelligent. They had adults who taught them that their actions can impact other people and life isn’t “all about them.” They are able to verbally express themselves well to both adults and peers. They are considerate of other peoples’ feelings and do not put others down to make themselves feel better (we know this doesn’t work anyway.)
13. Let Them Decide Where to go to College. You are a third generation Gator, but the fashion marketing program at FSU is better; get over it and let the child go to FSU.
14. Do Not Involve Them in your Divorce. It is not their fault your relationship failed, but they blame themselves. You must love your children more than you dislike your former spouse. Keep them out of the drama. Show respect to the other parent. Be an adult.
15. Provide Them with Coping Skills. Many adults and family members do not like children. A child must learn to cope with that person and when a child knows they matter to somebody, they cope in spite of the negative vibe. This can lead to success because they learn positive ways to cope at an early age. You don’t want them turning to things like alcohol, drugs, and sexual promiscuity to cope with life’s trials.
16. Give Them Access to Experiences. Successful children often have access to experiences beyond the classroom. They are involved in sporting teams, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, 4-H, vacations, and cultural experiences. This does not always require tons of money. Young kids can learn as much exploring the beaches of free, local parks as they can on lavish vacations.
There you have it. Common factors of success that have been observed by educators with 150 years of experience.
Cheers to you for wanting to raise children that will succeed. Cheers to their success.