Of course your kids need a good education. They need to master Reading, Writing and Math to function in real life and get a half-decent job. Even memorizing all those History facts, or studying the anatomy of the human body, can teach important skills like memory, logic, and analysis.
But there are important life skills that they won’t pick up from books, homework, or even the school fieldtrip. These skills are crucial for succeeding in the real world. That’s why a lot of smart, straight A students have trouble adjusting to life after college (and conversely, a high school dropout can grow up to be a business tycoon). Take a look at this list—and our suggestions on how to develop these in your child.
The classroom environment is very ‘safe.’ Teachers hand down tested, authoritative facts, which students accept and then regurgitate in recitations and tests. The answers are clear, and if there is a question, it’s easily resolved with a quick trip to the library.
However, real life doesn’t work that way. We often need to take risks based on incomplete information, and in many cases, it’s not about choosing between a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ but two ‘maybes.’ Straight after college they have to look for a job: ‘which offer is better?’ Or, they may start a business: ‘How do I know that this will work?’ They have to take risks—but how do they make smart ones?
Some of the richest, most successful people in the world are able to assess a situation and then make calculated risks. They’re not reckless; they’re just able to analyze trends, spot opportunities, and most of all, trust themselves.
One way to help your child take smarter risks is to encourage critical thinking and self-expression, and allow him to participate in family decisions or at least choices that affect him. Let’s say your tween wants to quit the baseball team. Instead of saying, ‘No—because I said so!’ go through the process with him. ‘What’s the problem? What are the different options? Why do you believe quitting is a better option? What would happen if…’
2. Dealing with different kinds of people
Kids (or even adults) gravitate to people who share their interests and personality. They may learn about different cultures from TV or books, but their day to day life is pretty homogenous. This is especially true in small communities, where everybody knows each other and shares the same values and background.
But in the real world, they’ll encounter people who have different beliefs, personalities, agendas, or ways of dealing with problems or issues. Some of them may withdraw from conflict. Others will try to be controlling. However, there are those who will see this diversity and thrive in it—excited by the exchange of ideas, and blessed with an ability to be diplomatic. Guess who are more likely to climb up the corporate ladder, or build a good career network?
To prepare your child for a diverse world, help him learn how to deal with conflict in a positive way. If he’s fighting with his siblings, don’t interfere—instead, calm them both down and encourage them to find a solution that works for everybody. Never compare kids and say, ‘I wish you were more like your brother!’ This ruins self-esteem and plants the idea that there’s only one ‘acceptable’ personality or behavior. Also avoid making any judgmental or disparaging comments about other people in front of your child. For example, don’t say, ‘That neighbor is absolutely crazy!’ Wonder aloud, ‘I wonder what would make her say something like that. Let’s try to understand where she’s coming from.’
3. Knowing your strengths and limitations
Parents are often told to praise kids for every little step: ‘Wow, that’s the best drawing I’ve ever seen!’ or ‘Good job on that project! You’re really a smart kid.’ Praise is good, but child development experts are also concerned that it could make your child a ‘praise junkie.’ He always looks for approval, or expects to be rewarded for (let’s face it) mediocre work. Just think of all the thousands of people who line up to audition for American Idol, convinced that they have the best singing voice in the world when they can’t even hold a tune. ‘My mom thinks I’m the best singer!’ they say, ‘and I’m going to make a career out of it!’ Yes, but mom didn’t say that your voice sounds like a frog that’s being run over by a six-wheeler truck.
Parents need to balance praise with teaching kids to have an honest assessment of their limitations. ‘I love hearing you sing, babe. You put a lot of soul into it. But, you’re not Fantasia. I think your gift is really in science and math. That’s okay—you can’t have everything! I’m proud of you anyway.’
4. Dealing with disappointment and failure
Your kid gets a D on a project. What do you do? Run to the teacher and complain? Do the next one for him so he gets an A? Parents tend to ‘rescue’ kids from a misplaced sense of love, but the fact is that your child needs to know how deal with problems on his own. If he gets a D, he now knows that he has to work harder and longer to bring up his grade. He learns persistence, a ‘no-quit’ attitude, and the satisfaction of seeing his skills improve over time. Rescuing him shortcuts that process and sets him up for the belief that life ‘should’ be easy. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
So encourage and comfort your child—he needs you to be his cheerleader. But gently say, ‘You have to do this yourself, so you know that you can do it. I believe in you.’ Then step back, and let him learn one of the most powerful secrets to success: ‘Don’t ever give up.’