As a parent I spend a lot of time thinking about how to raise a successful kid?
Does success depend on cognitive ability? Higher IQ scores, better educational opportunities, advanced degrees, higher grades? Many believe this to be the case and they push their children to get into the best schools and get the best grades possible. To join the most clubs and do the most activities. They start them early because we know that by starting early our kids will have the best shot at success.
We do not buy into this cognitive theory for success.
We believe in a character model.
This is the idea that what determines success are character traits like resilience, persistence, self-control, curiosity, grit and self-confidence. In our experience this is what makes people successful. Being smart is great, but it will not make you happy and successful.
This is not to say education is not important. It certainly is, but not as important as the character traits. I’ve always said the reason a college degree is important is that it shows persistence. What is actually studied is secondary to the fact that a student navigated the system and stuck with it till they are handed a diploma. All the diploma says is that I have what it takes to overcome obstacles.
That is how character is created and fostered.
Character is achieved by encountering and then overcoming failure.
So our job as parents is twofold. First, to make sure that our kids encounter obstacles and failure and second, to help them overcome it.
Many parents try to keep their kids from ever experiencing failure. They have the best intentions, but their actions are actually binding their kids hands behind their back before sending them out into the world. I interact daily with college students who are living on their own for the first time and I am blown away by the level of hand holding still going on.
If kids have any issues at all they call their parents right away, who then call me. They don’t know how to check a circuit breaker, they don’t know how to clean. Often times when there is an issue with one of the houses I will give the tenants the number of a repairman and tell them to call him to schedule the repair. Theoretically this makes scheduling much easier. After the repair the repairman can just send the bill to me. BUT, nine out of ten times they never do it. They just ignore the problem. The reason; they do not have the self-confidence to call a repairman.
This just in: As I am writing this I JUST got an email from a mom. It seems that the light bulb on her son’s front porch has burned out! Unbelievable!
The second thing we have to do after making sure out kids encounter failure is to help them overcome it. To just leave kids to fail will not help. Wealthy parents will often over protect their kids so they never experience failure. These kids enter the world with no ability to overcome simple obstacles and almost no ability to think critically and to respond to new experiences.
But poor children often have plenty of failure, only they have no skill at overcoming it. They don’t show up to college at all. They are accustomed to failing but not overcoming failure. They are just stressed out. This is a huge problem.
Some degree of stress is important. Kids need to learn to overcome. But too much stress affects the development of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is the part of the brain that allows us to self regulate. Children who grow up in chronically stressful environments have a harder time concentrating. They have a harder time rebounding from disappointments and following directions.
So here is the great news.
The best parenting is often LESS parenting.
The best thing you can do for your kid is to back off. Stop hovering over them. Get a life and do something for yourself. Let them fall down. Let them make huge mistakes. Just make sure you are there to help them overcome their obstacles. Don’t do it for them. Just give a bit of advice and send them on their way again.
Have a great day!