Before writing this article, I must include a disclaimer that I am not a psychologist or a scientist of any kind. I was motivated to write this however by reading another article that offered five tips on raising successful children, and I found it to be trivial, obvious and silly. In fact, my only knowledge is the fact that my wife and I raised two very well adjusted, successful sons and all I can offer is my advice on how we got there.
It’s crucial to understand that raising children is hard work. Assuming you have healthy children, you will get out what you put in. Children don’t, won’t, and can’t raise themselves. They are a full-time job, that’s more important than your actual job and that is the approach that needs to be taken. With the Covid pandemic more people are working from home or working a hybrid schedule. It means people are spending more time at home than in the past. That’s a positive that should allow for more time spent with children.
Tip #1 – You must read to your children every single day. Reading with them is not only a shared activity and your time is what they value most, but it will also foster a love of reading, challenge their imaginations and build a foundation for a lifelong love of learning. While I certainly understand the issues with higher education, despite news reports, people with college and more advanced degrees earn more than their peers without degrees. Intelligent, educated people are rarely if ever bored. That’s because they can always find things that interest them. Whether it’s a crossword puzzle, reading a book, playing chess, or visiting a museum.
Tip #2 – Do their homework with them so you understand whether or not they are processing the information they’re learning in school during the day. Too many parents simply assume their kids are doing their homework and that’s often because they’re tired from working all day. Completely understandable. Unfortunately, there can be no excuses when it comes to your children. At least check to make sure that they have completed their homework. Be involved in their learning so they don’t think they can get over on you. Of course, they would prefer to play video games. The video games should be used as a reward for doing a good job on their homework. The opposite should also be exercised. No video games until and unless their homework is completed and in an acceptable fashion.
Tip #3 – Take your children to places that foster education and learning. That includes natural history museums, art museums, science museums and concerts. Children are sponges. The younger they are, the more information they can absorb. My sons who are now 32 and 29 can still tell you what pieces of art they most love at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, the Brooklyn Museum or the best exhibit at the Science Museum in Queens, NY. Their interests, of which they have many, started at 3-years-old. They might drive their wives a little crazy, but our grandchildren will also be exposed to the same museums and activities. It’s like an inheritance for their futures, but they won’t have to pay taxes.
Tip #4 – Get your children involved in extracurricular activities like sports, art classes, music lessons skiing, snowboarding or cooking classes. My sons took Jujitsu classes with me, great father and sons’ time. They also played soccer and baseball. Children need to stay busy with productive activities, not hanging out wasting time on the street. There needs to be downtime, but too much idle time is detrimental to their growth. I’m not saying that kids should be treated like soldiers, but I am saying that children require structure. Children love to be busy as long as you find the activity(ies) that best suits their interests. You don’t want to force them to take flute lessons if they prefer violin or piano. Most importantly, we are talking about lifelong endeavors. I still train my grown sons in Judo and Jujitsu, and we love skiing together.
Tip #5 – Love and support your children but guide them as well. Most children don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. How could they? Help them find their lifelong pursuit. If he or she is good at math and science, perhaps they will grow up to be a doctor, scientist, professor or software coder. Lead them in that direction by sourcing programs online or by sending them to coding classes. If they are great at writing, perhaps law is the correct profession. We sent our youngest son to a high school with a law program. It happens to be the same high school from where the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated. Our son’s mock trial team won the NY State Mock Trial competition in Albany. He did in fact graduate from law school and is now a member of the NY State Bar. But this nonsense that I want my child to be whatever makes them happy, doesn’t work. It’s confusing and often leads to inertia. It’s certainly easier for the parents but won’t help your child become successful. What made me happy at 16 was racing sailboats. It only works if you come from a billionaire family who can fund your yachting lifestyle. For most of us, first we must earn the money that will allow us to pursue our personal endeavors.
Parents try so hard to bring up happy, well-adjusted kids. But there are so many factors that go into making that happen. There’s so much dysfunction that sometimes it’s difficult to overcome. I have been talking about tips that worked for our family. Our family is very traditional. Mother, father, two sons, thirty-three-year marriage. It doesn’t include divorce and other challenges that cause children to faulter. Divorce, no matter how amicable is difficult on children. Alcoholism, drug abuse, physical and mental abuse all play roles in causes for why children may be struggling in school. As I mentioned early on, I am not a psychologist. If any of these are present in your child’s life, seek help. There’s never any shame in getting help. Our oldest son had a bad lisp, so we took him to a speech therapist. In a year his lisp was gone.
One final thought involves all too often diagnosis of ADHD. For some children, this is absolutely a legitimate diagnosis. However, no child likes sitting down and behaving in a restaurant for example. When we started taking our kids out to restaurants, we didn’t allow them to get up and run around. We made it very clear that if they attempted to get up and disturb other people, we would never again go to a restaurant until they learned to behave with proper manners in public. Discipline isn’t fun as a parent. But it is absolutely crucial in bringing up civilized human beings. No different from teaching your child to say please and thank you. Children are blank slates. They don’t learn to be responsible, well-adjusted adults without being taught. You will get out what you put in. It’s the most important thing we can do as humans. Full disclosure, our oldest son is also an attorney. Some people say we are lucky. The wrinkles and bags around our eyes say otherwise.