It’s not what you try once, or what attitudes you hold. It’s what you actually do, every single day.
“We are what we repeatedly do,” said Aristotle. “Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” It’s true, whether we’re talking about ourselves our children.
Recently, we explored how wealthy parents give their kids a giant advantage, simply by raising them in more privileged neighborhoods. (Not every reader loved that idea. Some on Facebook called it a recipe for snobbishness or insecurity. Others bemoaned wealth segregation. Others said, like it or not, it’s backed by research–and it makes good sense.)
OK, fair enough. Let’s set that aside, and focus instead on seven other things that almost every parent can do for their kids every single day, to give them more of an edge.
Writing at Tech Insider, Rachel Gillett and Drake Baer have put together a great compendium of researched-backed advice. Their article is well worth reading.
Step one, obviously, should be to check out my free e-book on the subject: How to Raise Successful Kids. It’s free, and you can download it here. But beyond that, here’s what parents should do every single day for their kids–regardless of wealth, status, or personality.
1. Make your kids do chores.
Take out the garbage, mow the lawn, do the dishes–they’re not just ways to make your life easier, they’re ways to make your kids’ lives better, too.
“By making them do chores … they realize, ‘I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life,'” Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford University dean and the author of How to Raise an Adult, told Tech Insider.
Related: Be an “authoritative” parent, rather than an authoritarian or a permissive one. Create a world in which your child “grows up with a respect for authority, but doesn’t feel strangled by it.”
2. Teach them social skills.
Have you ever worked with socially awkward people? It’ll probably be no surprise to you to learn then that a 20-year study at Penn State and Duke found that kids with good social skills turned out to be more successful.
“Socially competent children who could cooperate with their peers without prompting, be helpful to others, understand their feelings, and resolve problems on their own, were far more likely to earn a college degree and have a full-time job by age 25 than those with limited social skills,” Gillett and Baer wrote.
3. Teach and demonstrate high educational expectations.
We’re combining two practices here, but they’re related. First, a University of Michigan study finds that if you want your kids to go to college, present yourself as a good role model by making sure you finish your education first. Meantime, make it clear that you expect them to study through college, too.
“Parents who saw college in their child’s future seemed to manage their child toward that goal irrespective of their income and other assets,” says UCLA professor Neal Halfon, who studied data from 6,600 kids born in 2001.
4. Teach them to develop good relationships.
We’ve all heard of parents whose marriages were failing but who decided to stay together for the sake of the kids. That might be admirable, but it matters more that they have good relationships with each parent, and with siblings (if they have any).
First, a study at the University of Illinois showed that it matters more that kids grow up in a home without conflict among their peers and siblings than that their parents are together. And second, a study of children born into poverty reported that “children who received ‘sensitive caregiving’ in their first three years” of life did better in school, and then had “healthier relationships and greater academic attainment in their 30s,” Gillett and Baer wrote.
5. Get them excited about math (early).
I certainly remember my mom drilling me on multiplication tables as a kid. (Not kidding: “Three nines? Two sixes? Five fifteens?”) It worked: Now I’m a billionaire.*
Reading to young children is important, but it turns out teaching them math skills is crucial as well. In one study of 35,000 young children, early math skills translated into not only “future math achievement,” according to the study’s co-author, Greg Duncan of Northwestern University, but also “future reading achievement.”
(*It’s true! But only in Indonesian rupees.)
6. Teach them to try. And not to worry about failing (or much else).
You’ve probably read about the idea of adopting a growth mindset versus a fixed or scarcity mindset. Short version: For your kids, you want a growth mindset. You want them to view failure, which happens to all of us, as a chance to learn and grow–not as an ending. In other words, don’t worry.
More than that, try to control your level of stress, or at least to control the extent to which they perceive your stress.
7. Show them work ethic–and achievement.
If you want your kids to behave a certain way, the most likely way to make it happen is to model good behavior. (The second most effective way might be to model really bad behavior and let them learn from your mistakes. But I’m going to suggest the first idea.)
Moreover, a Harvard Business School study shows that kids who grow up with working moms have advantages over those who don’t. As Gillett and Baer wrote, “The study found daughters of working mothers went to school longer, were more likely to have a job in a supervisory role, and earned more money — 23 percent more compared to their peers who were raised by stay-at-home mothers.”
There is no such thing as a complete list.
Gillett and Baer have a few other research-based recommendations, too. I take issue with two of them, for different reasons.
First, they cite the finding that kids with higher socioeconomic status tend to do better than those without. Of course that makes sense, but it’s not really something you can simply decide you’re going to change overnight.
Second, like virtually every other trendy article on this subject, they recommend teaching “grit,” defined as the “tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” While that’s virtuous in a vacuum, I think we’re going to find as a society that the way we teach grit omits something serious: the ability to maintain motivation while simultaneously, continuously reevaluating your goals.
OK. Now it’s your turn. What additional daily habits do you think parents need to embrace if they want their kids to be successful? Or do you take issue with any of the ones listed above? Let us know in the comments below.