First things first: We all want our kids to be successful -- and there are plenty of different paths to success.
For example, Steve Jobs believed that asking for help often separated those who succeeded from those who did not. Oprah Winfrey feels that success requires learning which bridges you should cross and which bridges you should burn. Jeff Bezos believes time spent deliberating over decisions that are easily reversible is time wasted.
But all of these people have one thing in common. They weren't born successful. They learned how to achieve success.
While, of course, there are others (feel free to add your own in the comments below), here are some of the ways you can tell a parent is teaching his or her children to be successful -- in whatever way they choose to define "success" -- and to live fulfilled and happy lives.
1. They help their kids embrace failure.
Ask the average person why he or she got an A in a class and the answer will include personal pronouns like "I" and "me."
Ask the average person why he or she failed a class and the answer will point to others: the teachers, the material, the schedule -- it's someone else's or something else's fault. That's a huge problem -- because when you distance yourself you never learn from your failures.
Occasionally something completely outside your control will cause you to fail. Most of the time, though, it's you. And that's OK. In fact, that's great. Every successful person has failed numerous times. Most of them have failed a lot more often than you can imagine. That's why they're successful now.
Great parents teach their kids to own their failures: To embrace them, learn from them, and take full responsibility for making sure that next time they will know how to make things turn out differently.
2. They help their kids embrace small wins.
According to research, gaining agreement has an effect -- even if only over the short term.
Great parents teach their kids that, instead of jumping to the end of their argument, they should start with statements or premises they know their audience will agree with. They show them how to build a foundation for further agreement.
A body in motion tends to remain in motion -- and that also applies to a head that nods in agreement.
3. They help their kids take that first small step.
We all have ideas. We all have plans. We all have goals. That's great. But we don't actually have anything until we have something.
People let hesitation and uncertainty stop them from acting on their dreams. That's why great parents help their kids take that first step.
Why? Because the first step is by far the hardest.
Every successive step is a lot easier.
4. They help their kids develop a growth mindset.
According to research on achievement and success by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, people tend to embrace one of two mental approaches to talent:
Fixed mindset: The belief that intelligence, ability, and skill are inborn and relatively fixed--we "have" what we were born with. People with a fixed mindset typically say things like "I'm just not that smart" or "Math is not my thing."
Growth mindset: The belief that intelligence, ability, and skill can be developed through effort--we are what we work to become. People with a growth mindset typically say things like "With a little more time, I'll get it" or "That's OK. I'll give it another try."
That difference in perspective can be molded by the kind of praise we receive, and that often starts when we're kids. For example, say you are praised in one of these ways:
- "Wow, you figured that out so fast--you are so smart!"
- "Wow, you are amazing--you got an A without even cracking a book!"
Sounds great, right? The problem is that other messages are lurking within those statements:
- "If I don't figure things out fast, I must not be very smart."
- "If I do have to study, I'm not amazing."
The result can be a fixed mindset. We start to assume we are what we are. Then, when the going gets tough and we struggle, we feel helpless because we think what we "are" isn't good enough.
And when we think that, we stop trying.
When you praise your kids only for achievements -- or criticize your kids for short-term failures -- you help create a fixed mindset environment. In time, they see every mistake as a failure. They see a lack of immediate results as a failure. In time, they can lose motivation and even stop trying.
After all, why try when trying won't matter?
Fortunately, there's another way: Make sure you focus on praising effort and application, too:
- "That didn't go perfectly, but you're definitely on the right track. Let's see what we can do to make it go even better next time."
- "Hey, you finished that project much more quickly this time. You must have worked really hard."
- "Great job! I can tell you put a lot of time into that."
The difference? You still praise results, but you praise results that are based on the premise of effort and not on an assumption of innate talent or skill.
By praising effort, you help create an environment in which kids feel anything is possible.
5. They help their kids live the life they want to live.
Most of the time, it's healthy to worry about what other people think. But not when it stands in the way of living the life you really want to live.
Great parents encourage their kids to do something they want to do even if their friends might think it's odd or even "crazy." They help their kids do the things they've always wanted to do, but hesitated to do because they were too concerned about what other people might think or say.
Doing things the way you want to do them is a habit that can be developed.
The best time to start that habit? When you're a kid.
6. They help their kids become more emotionally intelligent.
Like any kids, at times your child's friends will be hesitant. Or insecure. Or shy. Which means that sometimes they will ask a different question than the one they really want your child to answer.
A friend might ask your child if she thinks she's a good basketball player; what she really wants to know is whether your child thinks she should try out for the team.
Or a friend of your child's might ask her if she should take AP chemistry; what she really wants to know is if your child thinks she's smart enough to go to a great college.
Behind many questions lies an unasked question. Emotionally intelligent people pay attention so they can answer that question, too -- because that's what the other person doesn't just want to know, but also needs to know.
7. They help their kids trust the power of hard work.
Like Jimmy Spithill, skipper of America's Cup-winning Team Oracle USA, says, "Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy."
Compared with other people, your child -- just like me, and maybe you -- might not be as smart, as athletic, as outgoing, or as confident, but your child (and we) can always outthink, out-hustle, and outwork everyone else.
Even when everything seems stacked against us, effort and persistence are on our side -- and often they are the only things we truly need.
Great parents help their kids understand they don't always have to be first. Sometimes they can even be last -- especially when "last" means the only person left still trying.