In the process of childrearing it’s easy to get sidetracked by day-to-day concerns involving school and home, but it’s important to step back and look at the big picture from time to time. What should your primary goals be as a parent?
Try this mission statement on for size: you want to raise a caring, responsible, self-sufficient adult who feels good about himself and is not afraid to take appropriate risks to realize his dreams.
Most parents piloting their offspring toward maturity don’t think of risk taking as an important and teachable skill, but they should. You can start by envisioning the qualities you want to see.
You want her to know how to assess opportunities and decide when potential rewards justify the risk necessary to pursue them. Remember the old saying “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”?
Most rewards worth striving for demand sacrifice in terms of money, effort, and time. Repeated failures often precede the pot of gold and often mean anguish.
To take risks with equanimity, we must feel good enough about ourselves that failure will not lay us low. We must see it not as evidence of our own inadequacy but as an invitation to take on the challenge once more but differently, so as to increase the chances of success.
Before we can adopt this attitude we must be able to detach our sense of self-worth from the fate of any one particular venture. Your child must believe that if he does not win first place in the game, nothing has been proven except that this one particular attempt did not succeed.
Your task as a parent, then, is to raise your child to understand that even if she fails again and again, when the goal is well chosen, it is essential to persevere. She won’t succeed in the end unless she refuses to quit.
The following tips will help you prepare your child to take appropriate risks in adulthood.
1. Debrief him daily. When you spend time with your child, asking questions and listening closely to his responses, you show him respect. Your attitude teaches him that he is someone to be respected. At the same time, as his parent, you help shape his interpretation of his experience in other ways.
2. Spend time alone with her. You develop the bond between the two of you when you and your child do things together. If other people are always present, your child will inevitably feel that she occupies second place, never deserving your undivided attention.
3. Avoid telling him what to do. Whenever possible, invite him to consider different courses of action and their likely consequences. Many times, in their desire to protect their children, parents deprive them of learning opportunities, also known as mistakes. At each developmental stage there are age-appropriate challenges. Let your child navigate them and learn for himself what results different choices produce. In this way he will develop his powers of judgment and his confidence in them.
4. Invite her to tell you her advice, opinion, and preferences. Listen to the answers. You can ask your child’s advice about situations you encounter in daily life. If you want your child to reconsider how she acted on a particular occasion, you can invent a roughly parallel fictional scenario and present it as something that happened to you. What would she advise under these circumstances? Invite her to analyze the possibilities and explain her recommendations.
5. Ask him to teach you things. The generation gap guarantees that your child’s experience will differ in important ways from your own. Find your areas of ignorance about his world, and invite your child to enlighten you. You will learn more about his life while strengthening the bond between you and letting your child know that he has wisdom to share.
6. Praise the deed, not the child. When you tell your child how smart or talented she is, you may be creating anxiety. Your child is likely to wonder whether, confronted with new evidence, you will decide at some point that she isn’t smart or talented after all. It’s better to praise specific things your child did. “I really like the way you handled that situation,” you might say. “You did a terrific job with that.”
7. Challenge him to explore and experiment. We can all have fun asking “What if?” Encourage your child to dream big, to fool around, to engage in lighthearted flights of fancy. The best ideas in life come when we are relaxed and playful, juxtaposing odd things and watching how they bounce off each other. Your child can enjoy stretching his imagination and take pride in its fruit.
8. Send her mail. Children generally have no money and no power. They are acutely aware of living at the mercy of adults, who seem to have many desirable perks. One such perk is mail. Your child probably thinks that mail is a badge of importance. If you send her snail mail, you can include cards, puzzle pieces to be assembled, and small games or toys. If you use email, you can attach music, videos, puzzles, optical illusions, and cartoons. Use your imagination and have fun with this.
9. Tell him stories. Invite him to tell stories. Stories help us remember our values and our history—who we are and where we came from. In addition to grounding us, stories connect people with each other. Teach your child how to tell stories.
10. Teach her to question. In a world where money and power loom large, vested interests always want us to toe the line. Society and civilization move forward, though, when individuals challenge the status quo and propose new ideas. Encourage your child to see that true leadership embraces both the ability to question and the ability to entertain novel answers.