From preschool through high school, it’s easy to get sucked into the trap of stressing (and over-stressing) about if our kids will grow up to be successful. We want them to work their hardest, earn perfect grades, and study to get top scores. We want them to play on the right teams and to work hard to be the best athlete they can be. We want them to engage in all the right classes and extracurricular activities so they can have the right exposure and “look good” on college applications. We want them to do all of this and most of all, to not be lazy. We believe if they are lazy now, a life determining domino effect will begin to set in: they don’t work hard, they don’t learn to work hard, they will get bad grades, they won’t get into college, they won’t get a good job. When we find ourselves focusing so much on training our children for their futures, we lose sight of accepting and appreciating the process of our children growing up. To prevent that, try to keep the following in mind:
Working Hard and Hardly Working: Successful kids do both
There absolutely is benefit to teaching the concept of working hard. But that’s just it, it’s the process of putting in work that’s important. Learning to stay calm and in control, persevering and trying new approaches when faced with frustrations is often referred to as showing grit. It’s the process, not necessarily the outcome (i.e., an A in a class, a tournament win), that’s important for long term success.
Likewise, enjoying time in leisure activities (for pure leisure – not a college application years down the road), the presence of positive family relationships, getting healthy sleep, and developing a strong self-concept are all factors that contribute to a child’s well-being. The benefits of emotional well-being in childhood have been shown to be related to future success.
Sometimes Do Your Best: Prioritizing for Success
We seem to be constantly telling kids to “do their best.” Personally, I don’t think that’s great advice. In my practice, I see kids who would benefit from a little more motivation and do need to be encouraged to work harder sometimes. I also see kids who always do their best to their detriment – they develop anxiety over outcomes that are less than perfect, they sacrifice sleep, they give up their down time and social time. Wouldn’t it be more worthwhile to teach kids that certain tasks really do require your best effort, other tasks can be managed with “good enough” effort, and some that some tasks really don’t matter too much at all? Teaching kids to prioritize in this way might actually be more realistic advice for their future. I know when I bake a cake, using a boxed mix is good enough for me and my family. My resources (i.e., time, energy) are limited. If I truly did my best and made a cake from scratch, I would be sacrificing some time or energy that could be spent hanging out with my kids or getting a good night’s sleep.
Focus on Who Instead of What
Getting stuck focusing on outcomes (i.e., the “whats”) can make it easy to lose sight of who your child is. Truly think about who your child is not what your child does. Is your child a generous spirit who makes people happy wherever he goes? Is your child principled, always standing up for what she believes in? Does your child find fun in everything? Spend time talking about and praising your child for who he is instead of what she does.