The parenting advice you really need: 5 things to teach your kids

The world is full of parenting advice: potty training tips, how to be a happier mom, life hacks that will rock your world, 572 ways you are ruining your child’s life…and so much more.

Many of these ideas are good, but in the age of information overload, sometimes it just becomes too much. Parents read one “good” idea after another and become overwhelmed trying to implement all of them. Exhausted from trying to do everything, some parents start to drown in the ocean of “good” (and sometimes not so good) ideas.

The truth is that there simply isn’t enough time to do every good thing.

The question then becomes…What is essential? What are the core beliefs your children need to learn in order to grow into healthy, happy adults?

Here are five things to make sure you teach your kids:

Failure is good

Kids need to know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Edison agreed with this concept when he spoke of his experience inventing the light bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

When kids have a negative view of failure, their fear of failing can lead them to avoid trying new things and achieving goals.

Teach your kids to view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Show them that it’s better to push themselves and try something hard—even if they fail—than to stick with easy tasks that provide little challenge. You learn with every failure, and come closer to achieving the goal.

Explain to kids that abilities can be developed through hard work. Kids may look at their childhood idols and assume that the person was “just a natural”. This mentality is an example of what renowned psychologist Carol Dweck refers to as a “fixed mindset”—and it’s dangerous.

A “growth mindset”, on the other hand, embraces learning as a process and asserts that “brains and talent are just the starting point.” Dweck explains that “This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

It’s not the failing that’s the problem…it’s the giving up. Ultimately, kids need to know that it’s okay to fail along the way if they are going to succeed in the end.

Word of the wise: “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

Creativity is key

In a survey of 1,500 CEOs, creativity was ranked as the number one factor for future business success. Surprised? Don’t be. Creative minds think outside the box, discovering solutions that differentiate companies in important (and lucrative) ways.

Sometimes we think of “creative” people as being limited to artists, musicians, and small children playing dress up. However, Creativity is about so much more than painting pictures or writing funny stories. It’s innovation, problem-solving, and adaptability. These are skills that have application far outside of the playroom.

And your child doesn’t have to be headed for Wall Street to benefit from creativity, either. No matter what role your child plays in the community—doctor, lawyer, engineer, construction worker, ANYTHING—the ability to think creatively is a distinguishing factor, both for professional and personal life.

The good news is that creativity is natural to kids. Your job as a parent is simply not to stamp it out. You can encourage your child’s creativity in simple ways like reading, exploring nature, and encouraging your kids to come up with solutions to their own problems. In fact, one of the best things parents can do to encourage creativity is to simply get out of the way. Step back, let the kids be bored sometimes, and provide them with opportunities to imagine and create.

Kindness matters

According to a national survey conducted by Harvard University, the vast majority of youth in today’s society value personal achievement more than being a caring community member.

Now, of course we want our kids to be successful. However, when individuals put self interest above qualities like kindness and fairness, the researchers asserted that “they are at greater risk of many forms of harmful behavior, including being cruel, disrespectful, and dishonest.”

Society depends on people who value the needs of the whole.

It all comes back to teaching kids “the golden rule”—treat others as you wish to be treated. Teach your children empathy. Find opportunities to learn together about other cultures, ethnicities, belief systems, etc. Read books, attend cultural celebrations, and make friends with people who are different from you. By doing so, your children will see that you respect and appreciate all people, even when you may not agree with or adopt all of their beliefs or cultural practices. We can appreciate the good in all people, and we can disagree without being disagreeable.

Lastly, take the time to serve as a family in your neighborhood and community. You could volunteer for a neighborhood clean-up, donate food and clothing to a shelter, or bake treats for the neighbors. What you do doesn’t really matter. The point is to teach our kids (and remind ourselves) the value of getting outside of ourselves and focusing on someone else’s needs for a few moments. When we serve others, we find more joy, confidence, and fulfillment in our own lives.

Related: How to teach kids to be kinder

Consequences happen

One of the hardest—and most important—lessons in life is that you can choose your own path, but you can’t choose your consequences.

However, it’s essential that kids understand that they are responsible for their actions and that those choices do have consequences. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Once you eat the cake, the consequence is that it’s gone. Toddlers will sometimes throw themselves to the ground in frustration when they realize that throwing their favorite toy caused it to break. Teenagers may be annoyed if you don’t bail them out when they forget their homework. But, they will learn responsibility for themselves.

Truly, it’s better to let kids feel the natural consequences of their actions when they are young…when the ramifications tend to be less significant. Let them lose a few points on an assignment (or even fail a test) in elementary school so that when they get to high school and college, they have already learned the importance of good study habits.

Take chances

I learned a lot of interesting facts from The Magic School Bus as a child, but it’s the often-repeated words of Miss Frizzle that echo in my head: “Take chance, make mistakes, get messy!”

When kids are little, they believe that just about anything is possible. The line between fact and fantasy is blurry, and they believe they can fly to the moon, save the world, and ride on a magic carpet…all before lunch.

Somewhere along the way, though, many of us lose that belief that the impossible is possible after all. We start to believe all the times we hear “no” and “don’t even think about it.” Sure, there is something to be said for being sensible. But there is also something to be said for shooting for the stars.

Encourage your children to dream big. More importantly, teach them to follow the dream they love and to work hard to make it a reality. If your child shows interest in something, help them develop their talents and abilities in that area. Be the voice that tells them, “Yes, you can.”

You may not know what your child will become in life, but if you teach them to be brave, creative, kind, and hard-working, you can be confident that they are on the path to something amazing.

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