My wife and I have been told that we are the luckiest parents on earth…many times. We have two daughters, Grace and Riley (11 and 16). They are by no means perfect children. Communicating with the teen is like pushing a very large boulder up a very steep hill. When she gets a snack, it looks like a hurricane decided to touch down on our kitchen and leave everything else unscathed. And, due to her teen brain, Riley forgets everything: “When did you tell me that?” “Wait. Were you talking to me?” “Can you go get my bike? I left it at school again.”
And, the eleven year old, she loves pushing her big sister’s buttons. She can be quite an emotional wreck. And, she loses everything: “Where is my homework? I know I put it in my backpack.” “Where’s my book? I know I put it in my backpack.” “Where’s my backpack? I know I put it on my back.”
In that respect, we are just like any other parents of a teen and tween. Yet, we’ve been called lucky because of what my daughters have accomplished.
When Riley was eight, she started a charity for pediatric cancer research and raised over $25,000. She landed a literary agent for her first book when she was ten. She was a finalist in a national essay contest in grade school winning a family day at Dodger’s Stadium in the Owner’s Box seated alongside Don Newcombe and Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon. She earned the right to be a toy-tester for the day at a toy company. And, she is currently a popular YouTuber with 140,000 subscribers and over 11 million views.
Her little sister, Grace, started a toy business when she was eight using her artistic skills to create play pets for kids. As a result, she’s donated thousands of dollars from her earnings to The Humane Society. She’s been featured in The National Enquirer Magazine for her entrepreneurial ways, was invited to a toy company in Southern California to possibly sell her business (she turned them down), and recently won a $10,000 scholarship and a family trip to Universal Studios Orlando for a national contest about how she uses her art and business to help others.
Again, the girls ain’t perfect, but their resumes definitely outshine my paltry one-pager. My wife and I feel so fortunate to have raised two girls who have had successes and experiences that neither of us ever would have imagined during our own childhoods. We are lucky, very lucky parents, and we’ve been asked time and again how we came to be so lucky.
Below are the six steps that we’ve used to help raise our daughters to be happy and successful.
1. Help Them Find Their Passions
Our oldest loves video and crafts. So, her DIY YouTube channel is a perfect fit for her. Our preteen adores animals and art, so running her business is not a chore; it’s what she loves.
Passions are what kids are drawn to, what they get out of bed for. Think about it. A child will work hard on what she loves, because when she immerses herself in her passions, it’s not her work. It’s her love.
So, help your child find her passions. That may mean turning off the TV, putting the iPhone away, and getting out art supplies, going to museums, playing sports, going to the beach, baking in the kitchen, or giving her a table at your next yard sale to sell her own items. It means, giving her experiences, listening to what she talks about at the dinner table, and paying attention to what excites her.
2. Give Them Opportunities
When you know what his passions are, then give him the opportunities to build them into strengths. When my eldest was younger, I used to make family movies with everyone acting and playing roles. I had been a film studies major in college. She wanted to watch me edit the videos. So, I’d sit her on my lap and she’d watch me for hours, asking me why I did this and the reason for that cut.
This was a passion for her. So, I started to let her edit some of our scenes. Eventually, she began to shoot her own movies. That’s when I got her an inexpensive video camera and offered tips and suggestions. Now, she’s the one who teaches me about the new editing programs and how to light a shot.
Find opportunities for them to exercise their passion muscles. Sign them up for teams, put them in clubs, sign them up for camps, find tutorials online. You giving these opportunities not only allows your child to improve in his passions, but it also shows him that you support what he loves.
3. Foster Their Dreams
I’m not only a lucky parent, but I am also a public school elementary teacher. Far too often, I see kids who have great ideas, but never pursue them because they have been shot down too many times. When a parent tells his child that her dreams are unattainable, the child believes it, and thus they truly become unattainable.
When Grace was five she saw a video online. Off the coast of a French island, fishermen were using puppies and kittens from shelters as live bait for big game fishing. She was appalled and pleaded with me to help her do something to stop it. What could I do, right? But, instead of telling her it was out of my hands, I asked how she thought we could help. She asked if we could contact the French government and ask how we could spread awareness here in America.
So, that’s what I did. I sat down with my kindergartner and we formulated a letter to the French government and eventually were in contact with the governor of the little island where this was taking place.
When we foster our children’s dreams, we are doing two incredible things as parents: 1) we are showing them that their ideas are relevant today, and 2) we build their confidence so in the future they won’t be hesitant to take a positive risk.
4. Make Them Work for It
I don’t care how much money or resources you have, your kid needs to work: work at school, work around the house, work to earn what they want. All too often parents who have, just hand over to their children whatever it is they want.
“Why should they have to work for it if it’s easy for me to give to them?”
Because there will probably come a time in their lives when you can’t provide. And, when that day comes, you want them to have had plenty of experience putting their noses to the grindstone. Also, kids who work for what they get develop a sense of pride in having earned, and they also are more easily able to put themselves in the shoes of others.
My teen loves the cell phone we bought her for her birthday a few years back, but we told her if she wanted to keep it, she’d have to pay for her part of the data plan. Sure, we could afford it, but we wanted her to learn responsibility. So, she works around the house to earn allowance to pay us for the plan. If she doesn’t do her chores, that’s fine, but she doesn’t get paid, and she has to find the funds elsewhere.
5. Be Consistent
One of the reasons I think our daughters do so well in school, as well as out, is because they understand their parameters. We have set the boundaries and stuck with them. Knowing where their limits are, kids don’t have to worry about trying to push them and can focus on their passions.
When my sixteen-year old was in fourth grade, she would take forever to get ready in the mornings, mostly because she would fart around until ten minutes before we had to leave, making me nearly late for work on a daily basis. We lived just a mile or so from her school, so I told her that I was going to leave on time with or without her, and if I wasn’t in the driveway by the time she got out of the house, she could just walk.
She was running late one morning. I started the van. She came dashing out, clutching her opened backpack with papers nearly flying out. When she got in the car, she realized she was still wearing her bedroom slippers. She begged me to turn around. Instead, I let her live with her choices, and she got to attend school all day without shoes. From that day forth, the farting stopped and she was ready to leave every day on time.
6. Love Them To Death!
Why do we want our kids to be successful? It’s ultimately because we want them to be happy, but kids are happiest when they know they are loved. With work, taking them to practice, doing the household chores, making meals, and catching up on emails it’s easy to assume that our kids know we love them, but as we tell them, “actions speak louder than words.”
So, show them you love them, not by necessarily buying them stuff, but by being available for them. Go out and shoot hoops together. Schedule regular Family Fun Days. Make brownies together for no reason. Have a tickle fight. Send a “Why I Love You” email. Play Operation against one another.
Kids that feel loved, feel safe. And, when you are safe in your family, you feel confident in other areas of life. That leads to stepping out of their comfort zones, and that’s when growth really takes place.
I feel so fortunate for the life I live as a husband and father. My girls are not perfect, and neither am I. I lose my temper. I can jump the gun at times. I am wrong (albeit, very rarely).
All parents are human. But, I know my wife and I are the luckiest parent on the planet, not so much because of all that our daughters have accomplished, as others have told us. We’re the luckiest parent on earth, because of the relationship we have forged with them. And, that relationship is the foundation to their successes.