Parenting is a balancing act. A sure way to stifle your children’s growth is to be too controlling over their actions or giving them unchecked free reign. According to popular psychology, there is a middle ground that may be best approach to set up kids for success. It’s called Authoritative Parenting, characterized by being highly responsive to a child’s emotional needs while still setting high expectations and being very consistent with enforcing boundaries.
We do the best we can to shape these youngsters as parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, although author Julie Lythcott-Haims’ How to Raise an Adult comes close. Her findings for the role of parents in their children’s life could be loosely summarized as: (1) providing love and support, and (2) allowing them to have responsibility.
My personal experience has been in line with this thinking, even in the corporate world. As a program manager (a.k.a. a project’s parent), the engineers and product managers I worked with acted like big kids much of the time. But as a stay-at-home dad and youth sports coach, I found that guiding children to improve their potential for success to be easier than working with adults, as kids are usually more open to new ideas and experiences. Below are four areas I have focused on to nurture my children for their future organized lives. These areas are similar to the building blocks discussed in depth in the book, How to Raise an Adult.
1. Teach Life Skills – Developmental psychologist Howard Gardener characterized 9 types of intelligence. Up through high school, we focus on 2 of these: number and word smarts. However, our success requires so much more. The other 7 types of smarts are largely left up to parents to teach or encourage: self (intra-personal), people (interpersonal), physical (kinesthetic), picture (spacial), sound (musical), nature (world) and life (existential). Weir Organized recognizes three other types of smarts: stuff (organizing), money (savings) and time (priorities).
Parents are their kids’ best teachers. It’s never too late to teach your children other smarts they need for success. The four steps to teaching any skill includes: (1) watch me do it, (2) we do it together, (3) I watch you do it, and (4) you do it by yourself. The Chinese proverb has it right (with a modification to the subject): Give a kid a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a kid to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
2. Build Resilience – How often do things go exactly as you envisioned? Ah ha! That’s the reason resilience is such an important skill to learn. Kids are more open to experimentation and risk taking than adults. Children will make mistakes, all of which should be met with support. It’s all about learning. Sometimes they just want parents to listen. But if they need help in understanding, a good parenting skill is to criticize focusing on the action. This approach helps remove any feelings of blame or guilt and encourages their continued exploration, and also builds their ability to bounce back. Kids need to be safe of course, but adults also need to remember that risk taking is good – advancements in our civilization are built on it! This is why it might be more risky not to take risks.
3. Encourage Independence – How will your child know what to do if they don’t do it themselves? Kids need responsibility. Over-parenting hurts kids. Children need to be allowed to learn from mistakes through their own trial and error. Three ways to encourage independence include: (a) assigning chores, (b) encouraging critical thinking, and (c) allowing free play.
In How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims makes the case that by making kids do chores, they realize they have to do the work of life in order to be part of life. Tell your kids if they want to be successful in life, it’s time to get to work on those chores!
Kids also need to develop their critical thinking by answering why and how questions on their own terms. It’s hard for adults to hold back when we know the answers; but we must first let them try in order for them to develop their own critical thinking.
Free play is defined as any kind of unstructured activity (non-electronic and with no or minimal adult intervention) that allows kids to use their imagination. Free play is vital to children’s development, especially as they learn how to make decisions, solve problems, handle their emotions, learn social skills and be just happy!
4. Cultivate Strengths – There is value in improving on areas of weakness, especially if lacking smarts in one of the intelligence types covered earlier in this blog. However, focusing on strengths increases confidence, creativity and happiness. This results in lower stress, higher productivity and life satisfaction. There is a biological reason for this: we are actually born with too many brain cells, or neurons, used to transmit information to the body. During our childhood and through our mid-20s, “neuron pruning” takes place to rid the brain of unused neural connections in order to focus on strengthening the important neurons.
Huh? Basically the brain is set up to focus on strengths. This change happens at an even higher rate during adolescence, which is why it is such an important time in our lives. If we study a subject, play a sport, learn an instrument, practice home-organizing skills, or gain other values at this time it will have a lasting effect on our life. This doesn’t mean we can’t change later in life, it just takes a lot more effort. The book CliftonStrengths for Students includes an online assessment that can help by providing insight for students to discover and develop their strengths in order to reach their potential.
Setting up kids for success starts with our guidance as parents. Learning life skills that are the foundation for an organized life should be learned in childhood…and what is one of the most important life skills? I’ve said it before: it all starts with organizing your stuff. So, it is very important that we ensure our kids learn how to be organized. In my next blog, I’ll discuss how organizing stuff really can be learned and completed by children.