Every parent wants their kids to be successful, but there are many paths to success. Warren Buffett says you're successful if the people you hope will love you actually do love you. Oprah Winfrey says success requires learning which bridges to cross and which bridges to burn. Jeff Bezos doesn't spend time deliberating over decisions that are easily reversible. Steve Jobs believed in the power of asking for help.
Want your kids to take that first step toward success in whatever pursuit they choose? Want your kids to be successful and happy?
Start giving them these eight priceless gifts a lot more often:
1. The gift of independence
Parents set guidelines. Parents make rules. That's the job.
But not too many guidelines and rules.
Personal satisfaction comes largely from autonomy and independence. We all care the most when something is "ours." We care the most when we feel we have the responsibility and authority not just to do what we're told, but to do what we feel is right.
Allow your kids to turn "have to" into "want to," because that turns a chore into something a lot more meaningful: an outward expression of their skills, talents, and experiences.
You want your kids to someday do work that has meaning.
Start setting that stage now.
2. The gift of genuine, specific praise
Everyone does something well. That's why everyone deserves praise and appreciation.
It's easy to praise your kids when they do something great. (It's very possible that consistent praise is one of the reasons they frequently do great things.) It's much harder to find reasons to praise your child when he or she simply meets your expectations.
But that's when it's most important to praise them. A few words of recognition, especially when that recognition is given publicly, could be just the nudge your child needs.
Try hard to see the good in children -- and not just yours -- before they see it in themselves. Provide a little spark to help them reach their true potential.
3. The gift of extreme patience
Want to show someone you truly care? Be patient with them.
Showing patience, and expressing genuine confidence, is a great way to let your children know you truly believe in them.
Not just today, but for their entire lives.
4. The gift of asking for help
Granted, that sounds odd. Asking for help isn't a gift; it's often an imposition.
But think of it this way: When you ask for help, especially from your kids, great things happen. You implicitly show you respect you've asked for help. You show you respect their knowledge or skill or experience. You show you trust them; after all, asking for help naturally makes you vulnerable.
Ask your kids for help as often as you can. They'll feel greater self-respect, self-esteem, and self-worth, because they've received one of the greatest gifts of all: knowing they made a difference in another person's life: yours.
5. The gift of forgiveness
When your child makes a big mistake, it's easy to start to view him or her through the perspective of that mistake. (I've definitely done that.)
But one mistake, or one weakness, is just one part of the whole person.
Want to be a great parent? Take a step back and think beyond the moment.
To forgive may be divine, but to forget can be even more divine.
6. The gift of privacy
They're your kids. You have a right to know.
Not everything, though.
Often, you don't even need to know. That's why sometimes the best gift you can give is the gift of privacy: not asking, not prying, and yet always being available if and when your child does want or need to share.
Help your children guard their privacy from outsiders, but also make sure you respect their privacy.
You don't always have to know in order to care.
7. The gift of high expectations
You and I? We're not perfect. We all want to be better than we are.
Which means, sometimes, we can all use a little constructive feedback.
Think about a time when someone told you what you least wanted to hear -- and yet most needed to hear. You've never forgotten what they said.
It changed your life.
Why not do the same for your child?
8. The gift of 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 studying!"
Sounds great, right? The problem is that other messages hide inside those statements:
- "If I don't figure things out really quickly, I must not be very smart."
- "If I do have to study, I must not be amazing."
The result of those messages is a fixed mindset: We 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 children only for achievements -- or criticize them for short-term failures -- you help create a fixed mindset environment. In time, your kids 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?
Instead, make sure you focus on praising effort and application, too:
- "Great job! I can tell you put a lot of time into studying for that test."
- "Great work! I know that took a lot of work, but you stayed with it until you finished."
The difference? You still praise results, but you praise results that are based on a foundation of effort and not on an assumption of innate talent or skill.
By praising effort, you help create an environment where your kids feel anything is possible -- all they have to do is keep trying.
So don't say "I know you'll get this; you're really smart," because "you're really smart" assumes an innate quality your child either has or does not have.
Instead, say "I have faith in you. You're a hard worker. I've never seen you give up. I know you'll get this."
Help your kids develop a growth mindset. Not only will they grow and learn, but they'll grow much more comfortable with stretching past their comfort zones -- because a momentary failure will just seem like another step on the path to success.