As a parent, you know there will come a day when your child will leave the safety and comfort of your home. Whether she’s setting off for three weeks at summer camp, moving into a dorm room, or even signing his first lease, you’re going to worry how he or she is going to manage in a complex world without your daily advice, guidance, and (let’s be real) nudging.
Preparing your children for the real world starts when they’re still young. By nurturing your child’s sense of self-reliance and initiative, you’re preparing them to be courageous agents of their own destiny.
Give Them Freedom To Pursue Their Passions
It’s a competitive academic world out there. Children’s schedules are densely packed with sports, scouting, clubs, tutoring, and enrichment activities such as music, dance, and the arts. Those long, lazy summers many parents remember are becoming a thing of the past.
Boredom, however, can be a very good thing. Children faced with long stretches of unscheduled time will find themselves at loose ends. It’s during those moments when they have no choice but to decide what they’d really like to do with their time.
Perhaps a future novelist will start writing stories. An artist may sit in a tree and draw fantasy worlds in a sketchbook. A future chemist may develop an interest in baking, while a future engineer may build a makeshift bridge across a creek.
A passion, once found, is a terrific self-motivator.
Praise Effort As Well As Success
In the real world, not everyone wins the prize. If you celebrate achievement alone—winning the race, the game, or reaching the honor roll—your child may soon become discouraged by what they’ll perceive as an enormous effort “gone to waste.” The focus on winning alone can crush initiative.
Studies have shown that raw talent may propel a child fast out of the academic or athletic gate, bringing quick success, but hard work, dedication, and concentrated effort are necessary for success in the long haul. In other words, Aesop was right about the turtle and the hare.
By praising the honest effort your child makes toward any goal, and pointing out improvements in his ability or skills along the way, pride in the process becomes paramount.
Show How To Lose Gracefully
Dealing with failure is tough. Nobody wants to lose the game or flunk the test, especially if they’ve put in everything they’ve got. Handling those feelings of disappointment with big-hearted grace is a learned skill.
School sports are a perfect way to practice how to manage feelings of disappointment. Few teams win every game. Accepting failure and being gracious to the winners is only the first step. The second step is embracing the failure as a learning process. What can be gleaned from the game? How can that knowledge be used for improvements in play before the next match? Learning how to accept failure as a stepping stone toward a goal is fabulous insulation against discouragement and a boost to self-motivation.
Parenting, as a job, has a built-in obsolescence. You’ll always be there for your kids, but with your help and guidance, they’ll step into the world with confidence, resilience, and all the courage and skills they’ll need to live a happy and productive life.