People often tell us that their biggest worry is what will happen to their children and their grandchildren when they are gone. It is one thing to hand on a substantial estate – generally built through years of hard work, discipline and planning. It is another to be confident that our children and grandchildren will themselves have the discipline and the emotional resilience to make the most of the opportunities that they are presented.
Family counselling expert, Bernie Bolger, has drawn on her clinical experience, together with cutting edge psychological research, to compile a list of the 8 mistakes parents make and the key strategies they can use to grow resilient, passionate kids who have the discipline themselves to achieve and maintain financial success.
Growing resilient, passionate kids in affluence.
In a world of material abundance, we all as parents are doing our best to raise self-disciplined, appreciative, and resourceful children who are not spoiled by the prosperity around them. So why does it seem that the more we give them, the more ungrateful and entitled some children become? How can we use the advantages they already have to move them from striving to thriving?
MISTAKE 1: We cotton-wool our children from experiencing risk
Our own parents sent us out to play and didn’t call us in until dinner was ready. Someone always came home with a black eye or a nail in their foot. But wearing a pirate patch didn’t stop us from going back out again: one-eyed but still filled with wonder. So why has parenting swung so far towards protecting our kids that we are preventing their growth and thriving? And how can we help them benefit from the opportunities we have worked so hard to give them?
Safety regulations, legal litigation and a heightened awareness of the dangers in our environment have turned us into hyper-vigilant over protectors. The “safety first” obsession plays into our fear of losing our kids, so we do all we can to shield them from harm. But we may be insulating them from healthy risk-taking behaviour. If a child doesn’t play outside, climb too high and fall, they frequently have phobias as adults. They learn that the world is an unsafe place in which they cannot trust themselves or others.
STRATEGY: Let your kids explore their environment rather than the Internet
Norwegian psychologists found that children who play in physically and emotionally stimulating and challenging environments that involve risk, grow into better adjusted and more confident adults.
STRATEGY: Encourage your kids to try a new skill, especially if it frightens them
From public speaking to rock climbing, kids need to fall a few times to learn it’s normal; teens need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to understand the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will experience high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders.
MISTAKE 2: We rescue too quickly
Have you ever been the recipient or sender of a message to a fellow parent trying to sort out your childrens’ friendships? While this may look like sticking up for your child, it deprives them of the chance to stick up for themselves. And it’s moved far beyond the playground. University lecturers like Dr Brene Brown (University of Houston) and Dr Carol Dweck (University of Stanford) are shocked at how frequently the parents of their POST-graduate students call them to ask if their 20-something child can get a re-mark on an exam. By swooping in and intervening on behalf of our children, we are depriving them of the opportunity to encounter an obstacle and navigate around it. We are robbing them of the skills needed to solve problems independently. We are offering short-term relief and long-term low self-esteem. With the best intentions, we are disabling our kids from becoming competent adults.
STRATEGY: Let your children solve their own problems
Guide your child through a series of open questions towards finding their own solutions to their challenges. You are there to support and console them, but not to fix the problem. From a tough friendship dynamic to an academic concern, ask your child to brainstorm ways of solving the problem, all the while supporting and nurturing them.
STRATEGY: Let your children make their own relationship mistakes.
Telling your children who to befriend or date will leave them feeling rebellious or powerless. You may not like the latest paramour with the glazed eyes in the skinny jeans, but asking – rather than telling – your child how they feel about them will help them make better choices.
MISTAKE 3: We praise too easily
Since when did everyone get a prize in Pass the Parcel? Life is about winning and losing, not just winning. Research shows that kids stop feeling special when everyone gets a prize. In fact, it makes it harder for them to be objective about their successes and failures. When Mum and Dad are constantly telling them how clever/pretty/talented they are, they doubt the objectivity of their parents and learn to cheat, exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality.
They have not been conditioned to face it.
In “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee”, Dr Wendy Mogul points out that we need to appreciate the paradox that our children are both ordinary and unique.
STRATEGY: Praise for Effort not Result
The American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a recent study by Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck, researchers at Columbia University. The study found children who were told they were smart became more vulnerable to setbacks.
“Praising children’s intelligence, far from boosting their self-esteem, encourages them to embrace self-defeating behaviours such as worrying about failure and avoiding risks,” said Dr. Dweck, lead author of the study. “However, when children are taught the value of concentrating, strategizing and working hard when dealing with academic challenges, this encourages them to sustain their motivation, performance and self-esteem.”
In the studies, the children were given an exam with several different problems to solve. All children were informed that they did very well on the test – no matter how well they actually did. Some were given a statement like, “You must be smart at these problems,” while other were told, “You must have worked hard at these problems.”
When the children were allowed to choose a task, those told they were intelligent tended to choose assignments they knew they would do well on, while the second group chose tasks they thought they might learn something from.
“Children praised for intelligence prefer to find out about the performance of others on the tasks rather than learn about new strategies for solving the problems,” the researchers said.
MISTAKE 4: We try to be friends with our children and treat them all ‘equally’
We’re cool. Our kids are cool. We’re finally becoming great friends. Only problem is, your child doesn’t need a friend in you, they need a parent. We may want them to like us so much that we try to avoid making the tough calls that may disappoint or frustrate them.
With multiple kids, when one does well, we feel it’s unfair to praise and reward them unless we also praise and reward their sibling/s. This is unrealistic and misses an opportunity to enforce the point to our kids that success is dependent upon our own actions and good deeds.
STRATEGY: Parent your children don’t befriend them
Remember: your child does not have to love you every minute. Sometimes they need to be disappointed and frustrated by you in order to understand that conflict and boundary-setting are part of any healthy relationship. Your kids will get over the disappointment of not going to the hottest party or buying the latest gadget, but they won’t get over the effects of being spoiled. So, tell them “no” or “not now,” and let them fight for what they really value and need.
Be careful not to teach them a good grade is rewarded by a trip to the shops. If your relationship is based on material rewards, kids will experience neither intrinsic motivation nor unconditional love. The only context appropriate for parents and kids to be ‘friends’ is on Facebook!
STRATEGY: Parent each child according to their needs
Your children have different shoe sizes, different wants and needs and different personalities from their siblings, so you can’t parent them as if they were the same person. When we mistake ‘fair’ treatment for ‘the same’ treatment, we actually increase siblings rivalry. Treat each child as an individual and celebrate their uniqueness.
MISTAKE 5: We don’t give them permission to fail and strategies to bounce back
Healthy teens are going to want to spread their wings and fly. But like Icarus, they may get too close to the sun and burn their wings in the process.
Privileged kids often feel added pressure not to fail as they have been given opportunities that others don’t have. We may want to stop them from making the mistakes we made but we should be mindful not to prevent them from finding their own paths.
STRATEGY: Share, don’t impair
Help your child navigate their challenges by sharing approaches that you found useful. Prepare them to encounter slip-ups and face the consequences of their decisions. Share how you felt when you faced a similar experience, what drove your actions, and the resulting lessons learned. Be careful not to preach and avoid sharing negative “lessons learned” to do with smoking, alcohol or drugs.
Because we’re not the only influence on our kids, we must be the best influence.
MISTAKE 6: We privilege IQ over EQ
With many of our children at high-achieving private schools, it can be easy to focus on IQ and ATAR rather than emotional and social intelligence. Intelligence is often used as a measure of a child’s maturity. Parents assume an intelligent child is ready for the world. That’s not the case. Just because giftedness is present in one aspect of a child’s life, don’t assume it pervades all areas. Developing a child’s emotional and social intelligence is as important as focusing on their academic success and will stand them in good stead in their future careers and relationships.
Attune to your child’s emotional needs. Just as you would help them if they were struggling academically, make sure you aren’t neglecting what they need to emotionally thrive. Simply putting aside your agenda and actively listening to them can go a long way.
Teach your children about empathy by involving them in charities and volunteer work. Ask them to call an elderly relative and have a conversation with them. Encourage your child to make eye contact when talking to others.
MISTAKE 7: We don’t practice what we preach
As parents, it is our responsibility to model the life we want our children to live. Children are very capable of pointing out the double standards we have and are the first to catch us out if we tell them to do as we say not as we do.
STRATEGY: Live in your integrity
If we want our offspring to be accountable for their words and actions, we have to be too. Watch yourself in the little ethical choices that others might notice, because your kids will notice too. If you don’t cut corners, for example, they will know it’s not acceptable for them to either. Show your kids what it means to give selflessly and joyfully. Work on your own passion and commitment and your kids will learn to be passionate and committed. Notice how you speak about work and relationships. If either is perceived as a chore, your kids will learn to dread both. Communicate clearly, respectfully and honestly. There is no point shouting at kids that they have no manners or respect when you are demonstrating the same trait. Leave people and places better than you found them, and your kids will do the same.
MISTAKE 8: We give our kids our money, not our time
This one is the trickiest. We work hard and we’re time poor. There is always another email to answer, another phone call to make, another fire to fight. We may be doing all this hard work, so our kids can benefit but when we rush from the chaos of the day to the structured holidays of a resort back to the madness of the year, we miss the sometimes-banal-sometimes- wonderful ordinary moments that our kids crave with us. We may compensate by buying them wonderful gadgets or throwing them great parties, but nothing makes up for time. If we’re constantly fobbing them off, our kids learn that they are last on our list and they start to devalue themselves and act out to get our attention.
STRATEGY: Prioritise time with each other
Schedule it in, if you must. Turn the electronics off and have a real conversation. Speak about the highlights and lowlights of your day, ask them about theirs. Make your questions count and listen to the answers. Ritualise family time so that everyone knows Saturday afternoon or Thursday evening is just for the nuclear family. Don’t let them down and they won’t let you down. The greatest gift you can give them doesn’t come with Intel inside.