These common-sense tips are based on children’s known developmental needs and recent research on child and adolescent well-being. Here’s what you can do immediately to support healthy development and prepare your child for real success.
- Define success on your terms.
Take time to consider the qualities you hope your children have when they leave the nest. How you define success is analogous to your mission statement as a parent. Without considering this explicitly, many families unwittingly default to the prevailing, narrow notion of success. Resist parent peer pressure, be informed and trust your gut.
- Maintain play time, down time, and family time. Avoid over-scheduling.
Young children need ample time for their most important job: unstructured play. Kids of all ages need restorative time to reflect and dream. And families need time together: at meals, on weekends, and during vacations to connect and form lasting bonds.
- Love your children unconditionally.
The basis for healthy emotional development is a sense of being lovable. Make sure your children know that they are loved for who they are, not only for how well they perform. Value the uniqueness of each child.
- Discipline and set limits.
There are two sides to parenting: warmth and discipline. Warmth is easier, but discipline is equally important. Children feel secure and cared for when their parents are willing to set limits. This is how children learn important skills like self-control and frustration tolerance. Don’t worry about your child’s temporary anger or indignation when you set limits. It will pass.
- Allow kids space to develop on their own and make mistakes.
Kids today experience unprecedented levels of adult direction and intervention. Whenever possible, let kids play and work on their own. Encourage appropriate risk-taking and allow kids to make mistakes–and learn from them. Self-direction and risk-taking breed resilience, creative thinking, and long-term success.
- Build responsibility at home and in the community.
Have children help in age-appropriate ways with chores around the house. This requires you to take time to show children how to do the chores and to allow tasks to get done differently (and sometimes not as well) as if you did them yourself. It also reminds children that they are a contributing, capable part of a family team, not an entitled member served by parents. As they get older, encourage children to be active participants in their community, and set an example by being involved yourself.
Set limits on the amount of time your children watch TV, play screen-based games, instant message, and use the computer recreationally. For young children, less than an hour or so per day is a good starting point. Older kids also need limits on their screen time and the content they watch. All screen time is not equal, and you need to be aware of what your child is watching and with whom they are communicating. Children need ample time to interact with real people, without technology, and to be in the natural world.
- Ease performance pressure.
For many young people, the questions parents ask most often are: “How did you do on the test? Have you done your homework?” The subtle message to kids is that performance and results matter most. Instead, emphasize the importance of effort, hard work, resilience, and intellectual curiosity by asking open-ended, non-judgmental questions such as, “How did the day go?”
- Debunk college myths.
Make sure your children understand that there are many different paths to success after high school. There are many, many excellent colleges, all with different attributes and personalities; none right for everyone. Help your child find the “right fit.” Some students may fare better attending a junior college or other post-secondary option (such as gap year, travel programs, or trade schools).