We sometimes see those smart, precocious, child prodigies in media stories and marvel at how articulate, astute, expressive and confident they are. We wonder if they were naturally like that or if if their parents and support network made them that way. Is it nature or nurture? Most likely it is a combination of both. Character traits are inane and it is a fact that some children just have more drive and will than others and they want to succeed and do their best. It’s not to say that less-motivated kids cannot excel, it just takes a lot more to get them there. Here is where active parenting comes into play.
In recent years, we’ve seen a movement against the “helicopter parent” who hovers over their child or children and has his or her hands in all aspects of their children’s lives to make sure their kids are successful. The criticism is that such parents are hurting their children by not allowing them to fail or to learn things like work ethic on their own. There is value in trying and failing or just not getting the first place prize. All of this is true, however, it is a mistake to tell parents they should not be active, involved and engaged in their children’s lives.
A recent study said parents create narcissistic children by telling their child they are special too much. I find that hard to believe because, if anything, there are too many children who do not have high self-esteem or self-love. I cannot agree we should be showing our children less love.
It’s all about balance.
My husband’s aunt worked as a housekeeper for wealthy families for over a decade. Before then, she was a successful and award-winning early education teacher in her native Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies. Below is a combination of things she informed us the parents she’s worked with do, and things that I and other successful parents of smart, athletic, talented kids do. This list is not presented to make other parents feel inferior if they have not or are not doing these things but merely to edify and instruct.
1. They get prenatal treatment when they discover they are pregnant and read everything they can get their hands on about fetal development and pregnancy so they are informed. They put their baby’s needs ahead of their own, including foregoing hours spent on social media and doing other mindless activities, to instead learn about what’s going on inside their body so they are best prepared when their child is born.
2. They read to their child in the womb. They are aware of studies and reports that say fetuses that are exposed to the read language have better development in utero and in early infancy.
3. They read to their children in early infancy because they know that hearing the oral language as spoken and in natural speech is different and babies learn that early.
4. They ask their children to read signs and other things when they are out. Doing this keeps them sharp and aware of learning around them and the constant opportunities to get academic enrichment even while doing boring and mundane tasks or running errands.
5. They don’t snap when a child asks a question or shut them down. They have the patience to answer calmly and encourage follow up. You never want to shut down the natural curiosity of a child or a child who wants to learn and know more. That’s a good thing that should be encouraged not discouraged by telling a kid to hush or shut up and be quiet.
6. They take their children everywhere. It may seem like a burden to some to lug out a car seat, pack a baby back, haul the stroller in the car and go through all the endless steps involved for an outing. However, it is worth it. Kids that are exposed to the world, different people and even in germy places are more astute and develop interpersonal skills with others. If you can grab a carrier and when baby is big enough, have him face the world. Germs are not your enemy. They help build up an immunity and make your kid less sick.
7. They avoid negative words and certainly don’t call their kids bad. Here are a few other choice words to use when you’re aggravated and want to scream about how “bad” they are: challenging, difficult, disobedient, stubborn, naughty. These descriptors are more specific than just the general word, “bad” which is the opposite of “good.” No child needs to hear that they are “not good” no matter their behavior.
8. They ask them specific questions. How was your day and how was school will just get “good” as as a response. Instead ask what was the hardest part of the day today or what assignment did you enjoy doing the most today or who did you sit with at lunch. And then listen to the answer. Get your head and mind off of your smart phone and focus on your kid.
9. They enroll their children in arts, gymnastics, play, music and other enrichment classes so they build a well-rounded child. They know that the benefits of extracurricular activity spill into the classroom and that it’s important for kids to enjoy all aspects of life: culture and fun.
10. They make sure they know what reports, assignments, exams and quizzes their child has coming up. Help them study, if possible, or make sure they are putting in ample prep time. And if they are incapable of helping, they get a tutor and find the free tutor hour that some city libraries offer.
11. They don’t use corporal punishment like spanking as the first way of discipline. They are creative and find other things like taking away a favorite game or past time, TV or video games, put kids in corners, make them do push ups and sit ups, and find other alternatives.
12. They limit their children’s screen times because the mindless playing nonstop takes away from their children going outside to play and explore. All that has been written about the negative impact of excessive video-game playing are out there.
13. They play board games because that teaches patience, strategy and skill.
14. They do crafts with their children because it encourages parental bonding and teaches patience and how to complete a project from start to finish.
15. They encourage their child to play house or with action figures because it enhances their imagination and prepares them for logic and composition later in their schooling.
16. They encourage their children to play with Legos because building activities helps grow patience, skill, logic and develops spatial reasoning which will be great for math class later.
17. They have high expectations and let their children know constantly they will not settle for or accept mediocrity. When a parent has a non-motivated child who is not a self-starter or doesn’t have the self-drive to want to excel, their child will never do better unless they are made to know they have to try. If you accept all C’s and D’s and do not express disappointment, neither take the steps to get a tutor, become engage with the assignments or reach out to your children’s teachers, they will continue to bring home C’s and D’s.
18. They get their children into team sports or martial arts because not only is the extra movement outside of gym class or recess important for fighting childhood obesity, but these activities also build confidence and keep kids off the streets, and away from drugs and other deviant behavior and circles of influence.
19. They don’t compare their children to other children, especially in front of their kids because they know all children have special talents, circumstances and levels of drive that differ. They focus on drawing out whatever their child is best at and complimenting them on all they love about their child, rather than focus on the negative.
20. They shower their children with affirmation in the form of hugs and kisses and positive advice or words simply letting them know how happy they are to have their children in their lives. Confident children who love themselves and have high self-esteem are fed positive vibes from home so they know they don’t need to go elsewhere for approval. To borrow a popular cliche: Home is where the heart is.
There you have it. If you are doing these things, kudos to you, and if not, consider taking heed to those you like and abandon what you don’t. There is more than one way to raise successful, conscientious, civic-minded, and well-rounded children.