As well as emphasising the importance of children developing a good range of core life skills, a major part of the How To Raise A Happy Genius philosophy is the importance of a range of key parental skills for raising children who will go on to become happy and successful adults. Most of these skills are self-evident, but it is amazing how often parents forget how important they actually are. This post, therefore, aims to provide a reminder of ten key parental skills as well as providing a brief summary of why each one is so important for raising a happy genius. So what are these ten key parental skills? Well, in no particular order, they are:
1. Effective use of positive praise:
Praise is one of the important tools in a parents tool kit. Used correctly, it can encourage your child to develop critical core life skills such as self-confidence, self-motivation and persistence, but it is amazing how easy it is to mis-use. You might think that mis-using praise can’t possibly damage your child, but you’d be wrong. Used inappropriately, praise can damage your child’s self-confidence and effectively cripple them emotionally and intellectually, leading to adults who refuse to try anything new and who give up at the first sign of any hurdles in life (something known as learned helplessness). The key to effective use of praise is that it must always be positive, sincere, appropriate, and unexpected.
It is extremely important that you are honest with your child. You are their first and foremost influence, especially in their first few years of life, and it is from you that they will learn how to interact with other people. If you regularly lie to your child (and they don’t have to be big lies, they can just as easily be the little ones that parents tell without thinking they will do any harm), then they will learn that this is the acceptable way to deal with other people. However, do not confuse honestly with bluntness, especially when talking to your child. You can deal with a child honestly without telling them the absolute truth all the time and without being rude or insulting to them. This should go without saying, but it always amazes me how many people use the need for honestly as an excuse for being rude. You can always tell such people because they use phrases like ‘I just tell it like it is’, ‘It’s better they hear it from me than from someone else’, ‘I just say it as I see it’ and ‘I’m just being honest’ to excuse their rudeness, and this type of rudeness can be exceedingly damaging to a child’s self-confidence. This is because, unlike adults who can usually see through this subterfuge, children will believe that, since it is coming from people they care about, that they are real, honest comments on their character and abilities, rather than realising that they are the thinly veiled insults they really are.
A major part of childhood is learning what the rules of society and social interactions are. These rules are not taught to children directly, instead they infer them from the way they are treated by other people. However, in order to be able to infer a set of rules, children need consistency. What do I mean by consistency? Well, I mean that they get the same response each and every time they act in the same way. This means that if they get praised for something one time, they shouldn’t get into trouble for doing the same thing a second time, yet this is surprisingly common. For example, a young child might tip their bowl of spaghetti onto their head at meal-time, causing laughter from all around them. This will get filed away in the child’s head as a positive response to this behaviour, and the next time they are served spaghetti, they will do it again, expecting the same response. This time they are met with anger, because, lets face it, what was funny the first time is not always funny when it is repeated again and again, and this will lead to confusion within the child’s head as they try to work out why they are not getting the same response as they did before. This is a very minor example, but it gets more serious when punishments or rewards are handed out in an inconsistent manner, as the child soon learns that adults cannot be trusted because they follow some unfathomable set of rules that the child can never work out. This applies not just for an individual child, but when rewards and punishments are given out inconsistently to different children in the same family or social group, and this can lead to a long-lasting sense of injustice that can taint a child’s view of the world for the rest of their lives. This is because they learn to be selfish and to think only about themselves because there is no point in trying to work out how to please others.
The need for punctuality in parents is related to the need for consistency (see above) and keeping your word (see below). In order to develop a trust in other people, children need to learn that other people will be there for them when they say they will be. Running late might seem like such a minor thing, and after all you have a busy life, but it is important to understand that if you are continually late for your child, you are sending them a message that they are not important to you, and they will interpret it as you having forgotten about them. In the long-run, there is little that is more damaging to a child’s self-confidence and self-image than believing they are so unimportant to the people who are meant to love them more than anyone else in the world that they have been forgotten. Sadly, if you look, you can frequently see examples of this in everyday life – they are the children you will see loitering outside schools, or huddled on doorsteps, waiting dejectedly for a parent who they feel has, once again, forgotten about them, and you should strive to never be that parent. The rule is simple here: if you say that you are going to be there for a child at a given time, you must be there at that time. If you are in any doubt as to whether you will be late, then err on the side of caution and leave yourself plenty of time to spare. It is so much better to arrive early and surprise your child, or even just have a little extra time to yourself before you pick them up, than to risk arriving late. This applies even to very young children who cannot tell the time. You might think that they won’t notice if you are late, but they have an unerring sense of time, and they will still pick up on it. Of course, there will be times when it is unavoidable, and if this is the case, try to ensure that they get a message so that they know you haven’t simply forgotten about them, but don’t get into the habit of doing this.
5. Keeping your word:
One of the most important core life skills, if not the most important one, that a child needs to develop to become successful in later life is the ability to delay gratification. This is the secret to persistence, goal-setting and working hard for future rewards. This is what is the difference between the adult who can save money for a happy retirement, and the one who ruins their adult life by needlessly splurging on credit cards that they can ill afford. What, you might be wondering, has this got to do with the importance of parents keeping their word? Well, the two are intimately linked. Children who learn that the adults in their life are unreliable quickly learn to grab any reward offered now because it might not still be there later and are the same children who fail to develop the ability to delay gratification. They see no point in saving for the future because they have learned that the future is unreliable. These are the children who get into petty crime because the threat of punishment if they get caught is no real threat to them as they have learned that all those in authority do is lie about what the future holds. So, in your dealings with your child, you need to be very careful to ensure that you keep your word: don’t promise things you cannot deliver and don’t say you’ll do something unless you know with certainty that you will be able to do it. It’s very easy to get into the habit of promising a child something just to keep them quiet for a given moment, on the assumption that they will forget about it, but it will be filed away and if you don’t honour your word, they will remember and they will learn that life is unreliable, so just don’t do it. Children can learn this negative lesson remarkably quickly, and even a few incidents of you not keeping your word can be enough to instill a deep and long-lasting distrust. The worst thing is that it is not just you that needs to keep your word. If you are good at it, but there are other adults in your child’s circle that are not, then you need to tell them that this just isn’t on and explain to them how damaging it can be. If this doesn’t result in them changing their behaviour, then you need to re-consider whether they are worthy to be in your child’s life. This may sound harsh, but it is that important!
There is a big difference between spending time in the same room as your child and spending time with your child. A child can feel just as forgotten about if you simply do not pay them the right attention while they are with you as if you leave them sitting on the doorstep for hours waiting for you to get home. This does not mean that when you are with your child, you need to spend every second at their beck and call. Instead, it means setting aside time when your child is the full and only focus of your attention, so when it comes to that time, turn off your mobile phone, put down your kindle, switch off your TV, make sure that any other children in the household are suitably occupied, and focus only on them. Just as importantly, don’t let yourself get distracted when you should be spending time with your children. I cannot count the number of times I have seen adults standing around in parks clutching mobile phones to their ears while their child tries desperately to get their attention. These children end up with the same dejected looks on their faces as those who are left at the school gate after all the other kids have been picked up because, once again, their parents are late. So the lesson here is, when you’re out with your kids, they need to come first, and no phone call should be more important than the time you are meant to be spending with them.
7. Active listening:
Related to attentiveness is active listening. While it is important to encourage your child not to interrupt when others are speaking, it is also important that when it comes to their time to speak that they feel they are being listened to. In this respect, a simple grunt while you check your friend’s latest status update on Facebook is not enough. Instead, you need to be fully focused on your child and what they are saying, and the best way to let them know that they have your full attention is through active listening. Active listening requires the listener to concentrate, understand, respond appropriately and remember what is being said, and it requires actions from those on both sides of the conversation. A great way to indicate to a child that you are actively listening to what they are saying is to ask relevant questions that will elucidate more details about specific points the child has mentioned. An active listening conversation might go something like this:
Child: So me and Johnny climbed up to the very top of the climbing frame. Parent: Johnny, he's the one with the red hair, isn't he? Child: Yes. Parent: That was very brave of you both to do that. Were you scared? Child: No. Well, a little but, but Johnny was more scared than me. Parent: I bet you could see a lot from up there. What could you see? Child: I could see the whole of the playground, and almost over the top of the school ...
Respect is a much over-used word these days, but the basic concept is as important as it has ever been. As with honestly, a child learns whether they are worthy of respect, and when other people deserve it, by watching how their parents interact with them, with each other and with the wider world. As a result, it is important that parents use appropriate respect within every element of their lives to ensure that their children grow up with the ability to show appropriate respect to others. If you, as a parent, are continually shouting at your partner, or belittling them, then your child will learn that this is the way they should treat their own partners when they grow up, and that it is how they will expect to be treated. If you are continually being rude to waiters in restaurants, then your child will learn that this is how you treat people whose job it is to serve you. If you swear at other drivers on the road, your child will learn that this is the responsible way to behave when driving a car. If you shout down the phone at those who work for you, then they will learn that this is how you treat employees. If you bitch about your boss when you get home from work, then they will learn that their bosses deserve no respect. In fact, the list here is endless, but by now you should have got the picture: treat others as you would like your child to be treated if they were in that position, and your child will learn respect and compassion for others. Treat others with disrespect, and your child will learn not only that this is how you treat others, but it is how they should expect to be treated in the same circumstances.
9. Good financial management:
Poor financial management is the bane on many adult lives, and the roots of this behaviour can almost always be traced to the environment they grew up in. If parents were always dipping into savings, or worse, not saving at all, skipping the payment of bills to give their children treats, running up debts to pay for birthdays and Christmases rather than being careful with money, then the chances are that their children will behave like that too when they grow up. This means that parents have a responsibility to practice good financial management in front of their kids, and this is the best way for them to learn to have a positive, rather than a negative, relationship with money. For many people, this won’t be easy, and it will mean learning these skills for themselves for the first time in their lives, but it is the best way to break the inter-generational spread of the unhappiness caused by poor financial management.
10. Understanding how your child views the world:
Everyone’s brain is different, and everyone’s experience of the world is unique. This means that you can never assume that your child sees the world in the same way that you do. In order to help them become the happy genius that they deserve to be, you need to understand how their mind works. This sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. All you need to do is ask! Of course, you need to ask just the right question, and more importantly you need to carefully listen to the answer to ensure that you properly understand it. This last part can be particularly challenging if your child sees the world in a very different way than you do, but it is well worth the effort. This is because a child who feels that they are fully understood by their parents will be a lot happier and lot more willing to share their thoughts and emotions with them than a child who doesn’t feel this way. A prime example of this is an introverted child born to extroverted parents. The parents may feel that their child should be out socialising and making friends rather than sitting inside reading a book, because that is what they liked doing as a child, but forcing an introverted child to do this will just leave them feeling socially anxious and mis-understood. This situation can be avoided if the parents simply ask their child why they prefer to stay at home and read a book than going out to meet new people. A similar situation comes when a child doesn’t like being hugged. Many parents will view this as a major betrayal of their parental love and affection, and will continually try to force their child to hug them, yet if the child is just not comfortable with this (and this is not as uncommon as you might think), this will only damage the child’s relationship with their parents, and in later life with others. Again, by simply sitting down with your child and asking them why they don’t like being hugged, the parent will better understand why this is the case. Indeed, sometimes the answer can be as simple as the fact they don’t like a particularly scratchy jumper the parent wears, or the fact they don’t like that they smell of cigarette smoke or they wear too much perfume!
So, these are my ten key parental skills for raising a happy genius. They’re all quite simple and I’m sure that you’re quite familiar with most of them already, and most probably already practicing them in some form or another, but my betting is that there will be at least one thing that I’ve mentioned above that will have made you stop and think, and maybe even made you decide to change for the better.
About The Author: This post was written by Colin Drysdale, the creator of How To Raise A Happy Genius.