The measure of our success as a parent is not how much they win at sport or excel at school. It's how well we set them up to thrive in the bigger game of life. Doing that, requires encouraging them to pursue big ambitions, learning how to handle failure and building the "muscles for life." Here's seven ways to do just that.
1. Help them navigate risk
Risk often gets a bad rap. But all risks aren't created equal and so we have to teach our kids to discern between foolish risks and those necessary to achieve what they want. Easier said than done.
From the moment we become a parent we are wired to protect our children from harm and there is nothing we fear more than something or someone causing them harm. Yet the reality is that the world is a dangerous place and by sheltering them from all risk, we deprive them of the opportunity to develop the skills to assess it accurately. Just because something is scary doesn't mean its bad for us. In fact, sometimes we have to do the very thing that we are most afraid of in order to achieve what we want most.
Taking a risk doesn't guarantee success, but it always precedes it. Encourage your kids to exit the safety of their comfort zone and to try things where they may risk failure or falling short. Sure they won't always get the result they want, but they'll learn a lot about what it takes to succeed next time.
2. Nurture big dreams
On my 40th birthday my daughter Maddy, 10 at the time, gave me a handcrafted birthday voucher on which she wrote:
"This vowcher lets you be my gest at the Oscars when I am nomnated for best actres."
I recall thinking that she stood more chance of winning an Oscar than the national spelling bee! I then tucked my "vowcher" away for safe keeping until that day arrives. And if it doesn't, that's ok too. I love that she wasn't afraid to dream big.
Often between dressing up as Superman and graduating college, young people dial down their ambitions as the realities of the "real" world press in. Lowering the bar on ambition minimizes the likelihood of not scaling it. But steering your kids toward "safe" aspirations because you're afraid of what may happen if they take a path less travelled, isn't only selfish, it's cowardly. Surely it's safer in the long run for them to pursue their lofty dreams and learn whatever lessons await than to run the risk of one day looking back and wondering "What if?" I have yet to meet anyone who told me they dreamt too big, but I've lost count of those who've confided they wished they'd dared more boldly.
3. Encourage non-conformity (in doses)
"First impressions count," is something my kids have heard me say many times as I've drummed into them the I importance of being polite and respectful. But I've also encouraged them not to let 'what others will think' matter more than what they think themselves. There are far too many adults whose lives are governed by keeping up appearances to the detriment of all else. Accordingly, I don't care if my kids are the fastest, smartest, or first at anything. Nor do I care if they one day go to the best college or pursue the most impressive career paths. I do care (a LOT) that they're confident to express their individuality and march to the beat to their own drum. Doing so begins by teaching them to engage with those around them from a place of self-confidence, rather than self-consciousness, knowing that if they were meant to be like 'everybody else' they'd have been born that way.
4. Share your struggles
Life can be hard so helping your kids build resilience is one of the biggest responsibilities of any parent. We set our kids up to navigate life's corners and curve balls better when we share how we are navigating our own. White washing reality or pretending all is fine when it's not doesn't serve our children in the long run. Revealing your vulnerability won't make you seem weak; it will show them you're human.
My four kids have seen me shed tears over the years as I've grieved the suffering or loss of people I love. (actually they've seen me shed tears at Palmolive ads.) They know moving home and hemisphere hasn't always been easy for me (I've done it five times) and that I've sometimes wrestled with difficult decisions or disappointments. Sharing your struggles teaches a powerful lesson in personal responsibly. That is, we can't always choose our circumstances, but we always get to choose our response to them.
5. Refuse to trade in excuses
Boys will be boys, teens will be teens, and kids will be kids. But when my kids mess up or have a melt-down, I do my best to give them whatever space or encouragement they need. But I also let them face the consequences of their behaviour and ask them to consider how they could have handled things better.
Too often I see parents dismiss irresponsible, violent, thoughtless or disrespectful behaviour as "kids being kids" and let kids off the hook from the fall out. But just because behavior may fall within the norm doesn't mean we should blindly tolerate it or hold them to account for it. Your kids may still be kids but they are already on the path to being the adults they will one day become. Expect more from them than they may expect from themselves. Trading in excuses and letting them evade consequences does them, and everyone they'll ever work or live with, a major disservice.
6. Seize opportunities to teach self-reliance
Many times I've seen parents do for their kids, what their kids are clearly capable of doing for themselves. While there's nothing inherently right or wrong about making your kids lunch (doing their school projects or building their Pinewood Derby cars) when they're old enough to make their own, you can be depriving them of a valuable opportunity to develop life skills, the self-reliance and confidence that flows from it.
Fortunately my daily working mother juggling act has prevented me from ever being remotely guilty of helicopter parenting. But while I often have little idea what school projects my kids have to do, or when they're due, I know that whatever marks they get, it's all on them.
7. Hug hard and hug often (even when their eyes roll!)
I've never heard of anyone spending years in therapy because their parents had been overly affectionate but I've seen many adults whose deep fear of being unlovable has kept them from developing the intimate relationships and driven them to settle for destructive. They fear they simply don't deserve better.
Children learn to be emotionally and physically affectionate by experiencing it. Of course with three teenagers, and one twelve-teen in our family, I've come to accept that my kids don't always love hugging me as much as I love hugging them. That said, I often just wrap my arms around each of them and let them know how proud I am of them (even if not the state of their bedrooms.)
You teach your kids how to be brave in love when you make them feel worthy of love, no matter what. There is no more precious gift than that. Period.
Margie Warrell is a mother of four great kids, bestselling author and founder of RawCourage.TV. Learn more at www.MargieWarrell.com