So you want to raise a successful kid?
Let me preface this post by saying that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all parenting manual for success.
All kids are different (which parents really begin to understand when they have kids who are completely different in personality).
That said, we all know that school systems, alone, can’t cover everything kids need to know to be successful at life.
Sure, they may learn how to do math, how to improve their writing skills, and a multitude of other subjects… but schools can’t do it all.
I remember when, as a middle-schooler, I was tested for and accepted into our school’s gifted program.
It was a small school so it didn’t impact my academic life significantly. But one thing I was exposed to was the concept of investing.
And my exposure was brief, I assure you.
But that one gifted program was my only exposure, during my academic career, to finances and investing. And yet, as adults, everything in our lives revolves around our finances.
This is just one example and is used to prove a point: that the school systems can’t provide everything kids need to set teens up for lifelong success.
So what can we do, as parents, to set our kids up for lifelong success?
What or whom can we expose them to?
Let me share with you seven strategies to help you in raising a success kid.
Success Kid Tip #1: Find a Mentor
Psychologist, best-selling author, and monthly New York Times columnist Lisa Damour explains, “we have really nice research showing that non-family adults are really important in the lives of teenagers.
Those non-family adults can be teachers, coaches, bosses, or family friends.
It doesn’t have to be some formalized arrangement, it can be something that’s already happening in the course of a teenager’s day.
But the reality is that in the course of normal development, teenagers become a little more private at home and strengthen their ties to people outside of the home.
That’s something we expect to see but they still need grownups, and they can’t always go to their parents in the same way that they used to because it feels babyish.
That’s when it’s so valuable for them to have a teacher they can talk to, or a coach they can talk to, or a boss at work who wants to really show them the next step in what they’re learning.
When we look at the research on non-family adults, we see a couple of important things. One thing we see is that kids who are connected to non-family adults have higher levels of achievement and lower levels of risky behavior. The other thing that we see is that when non-family adults give them a compliment or say something nice about what they’re doing, it has a much greater impact on their self-esteem than when their parents give them a compliment.
I think for a lot of teenagers, they feel like, ‘Yeah, you’re my dad, you’ve got to say that.’ I think it’s very different if the youth counselor at church or someone else says, ‘Hey, you did a really good job with this project.’”
Success Kid Tip #2: Intentionally Expose Your Kids to Different Industries & Careers
School counselor Phyllis Fagell points out, “I think that we as parents tend to end up in our own bubble. We know what we do. We know what our parents did. We know what our grandparents did.
We know what our neighbors do… But we may not know much about what’s involved in being an entrepreneur, for example.”
Something “parents can do for their kids is to make sure they have really broad exposure to all of the different industries out there… I think a large number of the jobs that exist now won’t even exist in the future and those soft skills like creativity and innovation are going to be so much more important and the ability to be flexible to move from field to field is also going to be critical as technology advances.”
Success Kid Tip #3: Teach Your Kids Real-World Financial Skills
“Parents need to have a solid awareness of finances themselves,” Fagell says.
She adds, that “in terms of kids, you can talk to them about saving, you can talk to them about giving, you can talk to them about the value of money.
Make sure that they understand what things cost. [Explain that] they can negotiate their own babysitting fees. Introduce them to the world of work and… the idea that time is money, a concept that I think kids don’t necessarily understand. [Teach them] that investing involves risk, but it also might involve rewards.
There are these basic Financial Concepts that I think parents can make sure that their kids are aware of that are not covered in a typical school curriculum. Balancing a checkbook.
You know, things that might have been covered a generation ago in life skills classes just doesn’t get taught anymore, so I think parents have to step up and make sure that they’re conveying those lessons themselves.”
Success Kid Tip #4: Teach Goal-Setting Techniques
Learning to set challenging, but realistic, goals is a skill that will help kids grow up to be successful adults.
Start by explaining what goals are: something you want to accomplish that has a time frame attached to it.
Discuss with your kids what dreams and aspirations they have.
Things like improving grades, earning money, developing a new hobby or learning a new skill. Help them understand the goal must be realistic, specific and measurable (or how else will you know if you’ve achieved your goal?).
Next, with your child, identify the steps he or she will have to take to achieve success. Perhaps that’s attending music lessons or studying for 30 minutes each day.
Hang your kids’ goals on the wall so they’re reminded of them daily and then track the progress together. And then, at the end, celebrate successes together.
If your child didn’t achieve the goal, evaluate what could have been done differently and use it as a learning/growth opportunity.
Success Kid Tip #5: Help Them Manage Their Emotions
As we all know, life doesn’t always go as planned. We all have bad days and make mistakes. However, the earlier teens learn how to manage their emotions in a healthy way, the easier it will be for them to manage them as adults.
In her article, It’s Not Just Hormones: What’s Really Happening in the Mind of Teenage Girls, Damour writes, “If you really want to help your daughter manage her distress, help her see the difference between complaining and venting.
Complaining generally communicates a sense that “someone should fix this,” while venting communicates that “I’ll feel better when someone who cares about me hears me out.”
Damour adds, “Most of what teens complain about can’t be fixed… Better for her to do a little less complaining about such realities and a little more venting. In doing so, she moves away from the childlike idea that the world should bend to her wishes to the adult idea that life comes with many unavoidable bumps.”
How can you help her recognize this?
By asking if she needs help with the problem or if she just wants to vent. This will let you know, from the beginning, if she actually wants help finding a solution and, if she does ask for advice, will increase the likelihood that she takes it.
Damour explains, “Given the opportunity to unload their discomfort, most teens will gather their resources and work through what went wrong, or discover, with the benefit of time, that the problem comes down to size on its own.”
Something else you can do is help teens understand that their personal worth is in no way tied to a specific outcome.
We all make mistakes or fail to accomplish our goals. If we were unwilling to fail, we would never try new things. Sharing some of your own mistakes in life can help them understand this.
Success Kid Tip #6: Teach Mindfulness Practices for Stress Management
Many educators today are introducing meditation into classrooms as a mean of helping kids improve their focus, regulate emotions and lower stress.
Mindfulness is all about living in the moment, without judgment and with an attitude of kindness and curiosity.
Fagell explains that while mindfulness doesn’t work for kids who are highly anxious or who have experienced trauma, for other children, it can be really helpful.
“There are a lot of different mindfulness activities that you can do with kids depending on their attention span and their age. Some kids will do really well with more meditative mindfulness strategies, which could be deep breathing. It could be shaking a glitter jar…
Other kids need more interactive active mindfulness strategies, so we have done activities where we blow up balloons, and the kids will make a face on the balloon that represents their mood…
I’ve done ice cube activities with kids where they hold an ice cube and I have them focus on the sensations of the coldness and of the melting ice cube and the longer they hold it the more uncomfortable with gets, but the exercise is designed to show them that they can sit with discomfort. A lot of anxiety is that fear that you can’t manage the emotion, you don’t know that you can sit with that discomfort, and then feel okay…
And then some kids do well with things like progressive relaxation, where you’re tightening and loosening every muscle progressively as you go up your body.”
Success Kid Tip #7: Encourage (And Demonstrate) a Healthy, Active Lifestyle
The most obvious benefit of getting your kids in the habit of engaging in physical activity most days of the week is because it helps develop healthy bones, muscles and fends off obesity.
But let’s face it, physical activity does far more than that.
According to the CDC, students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, better classroom behavior (like staying on task during class), and better cognitive behavior (such as better memory or improved concentration).
Exercise is also an excellent stress management tool.
It’s also been demonstrated that active kids are more likely to become active adults. This means that exercise and regular activity for kids is extremely important to develop into healthy, active adults.
It could also impact their overall success as well.
According to Tom Corley, author of Change Your Habits, Change Your Life, working out is a habit the wealthy tend to have in common. Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah, Mark Cuban and Jack Dorsey all give partial credit for their success and happiness to physical fitness.
While kids may get some amount of physical fitness at school, it’s important that you encourage activity outside of gym class. Some ideas include:
- ice skating
- inline skating
- weight training
It’s also extremely important that you lead by example. Make time, yourself, to exercise regularly and eat healthy meals. Your kids will be far more likely to follow your example in adulthood.
As I said in the beginning, there’s no manual that will provide all the solutions for raising a successful teen.
(Although wouldn’t that be nice?)
All we can do is to be as knowledgeable as possible and provide our kids with the tools and encouragement they need for success.
Hopefully these seven success strategies give you a few ideas of things you can try with your own kids.