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Raising Successful Children: Lessons from Becoming Brilliant

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“I used to do that when I was a kid, and I turned out just fine.” “I never use fractions in real life.” “Go play with your Barbies, sweetie. Maybe they can play school or go to a dance.”

Ever hear yourself saying things like this?

Learn how to stop saying the wrong things and start challenging the “parenting status quo” in order to raise successful children and a better generation – valuable lessons learned from Becoming Brilliant by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff.

Amanda and I were approached not long ago with the unique opportunity to receive a free copy of Becoming Brilliant‘s audiobook, and we just couldn’t turn it down! As co-parents, we believe in doing everything we can to raise successful children, so we were beyond excited to know a book existed compiling all of the research to teach us (and you!) exactly how to do just that.

Raising a Better Generation

Apple’s Macintosh “Think Different” campaign from the 90’s perfectly sums up what it means to be a mama crazy enough to aspire to raise a better generation.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

But Becoming Brilliant is here to help.

When you dive into the book, the authors provide 6 C’s they deem the “suite of skills” we need in order to raise brilliant and successful children: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creativity, and confidence. How children score on standardized tests or how well they can memorize facts or even a strong affinity for learning are not strong indicators of how successful your child will be in the long run.

Teaching children to work with others, communicate effectively, actually understand their lessons, think creatively and critically, and to have confidence, will ensure your child is set-up for success. Teach your child to be entrepreneurial and to think differently like Apple suggested. Raise him up and let him know you think he’s a hard worker. Provide him opportunities to further develop the skills that give him confidence.

Because I mostly listened to the book in the car, I didn’t write down names of researchers or specific studies. To find out more about all the science behind the insights I’m sharing, check out Becoming Brilliant, for yourself! For now, I’m excited to share with you eight of my very favorite tips the book offers for raising successful children.

8 Tips for Raising Successful Children

1. Encourage children to explore.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but our kiddos think we are the smartest people they’ve ever met. We are seen as experts on all things. Think about it: Why else would they ask us all of those “why” questions about the world they live in? Because they think we have all of the answers!

And we just might, but we shouldn’t share them all. Harness your inner Socrates and answer your child’s question with a question. When he asks why he needs to eat his vegetables before he can have dessert, ask him why he thinks that is your rule. If he wants to know how a gadget works, it will help him if you let him brainstorm instead of telling him.

Help your child be successful by allowing him to learn to problem solve and analyze.

2. Teach your child how to “knowledge transfer”.

Though I certainly have my qualms with the school system, I do believe that they try to put valuable information in front of our kids each day. There’s a purpose for learning fractions, vocabulary words, and scientific principles. Studies have shown that children can perform any skill on their standardized tests but still struggle to apply the concept outside of the classroom.

Challenge your children to apply their lessons when they’re at home or out and about. When I was tutoring, I would often take class concepts and create word problems that related to the students’ lives. For example, if the students were learning about percentages, they’d have to solve problems about how much the pair of shoes they really wanted would cost if they had a 20% off coupon. Applying lessons in real world situations really helps students understand concepts beyond school walls.

3. Do not discuss “relative failure”.

One of my absolute favorite studies discussed was about preschoolers and their immunity to relative failure. When they saw their peers succeeding at a task, they took no hit to their self-esteems. What?! How often do you compare yourself to others and see yourself failing in relation to them? That blogger makes more money than I do, that mom takes her kids to more activities than I do, or that wife prepares healthier, more elaborate meals for her family than I do… Do any of these negative statements sound familiar?

They don’t to your children! Sure, Charlie may get frustrated if he can’t fit the pieces of the puzzle together, but he’s not taking it personally that Knox was able to get it on the first try. This innocence is refreshing! Don’t rob your child of it. Don’t tell him that he did better than another child or that one child is prettier than her friend.

Encourage your child to be better than she was yesterday–not better than the friend sitting next to her.

4. Praise your child’s efforts instead of her brilliance.

Study after study has shown that when you praise your child’s intelligence instead of her effort, she will perform poorer. As parents, we have to work to make sure we’re praising the right skills or traits in our children. I catch myself saying, “Wow! Look at how smart you are!” and “Man! My kid is brilliant!” all the time in an effort to boost her self-esteem and confidence. Though it works in the short-term, in the long-term I may be hurting more than I’m helping.

We need to remove the pressure of maintaining brilliance and focus instead on encouraging our children to maintain a strong effort. Try instead, “Wow! I really appreciate how hard you worked to spell that word correctly!” and “Man! You really pushed through on that math problem. Way to go!” when you’re working on homework with your little ones. They’ll try harder when they know these are the skills you value.

5. Inspire creativity at all times.

Life is an adventure! Let your kids’ creative juices flow! There are so many opportunities to allow your children to be creative. The authors suggest encouraging your children to keep a journal on vacation. They can keep receipts, draw pictures, and tell stories about their trip. How fun would it be to look back on your vacation from your child’s perspective? In our home, we keep summer journals for the very same reason!

I really resonated with the authors’ discussion of the “creativity is only for special people” myth. I can’t count the number of times I’ve suggested that I’m not creative; yet, I do creative thinking in my work each and every day. Though I may not be as artistic as my blogging partner Amanda is, I’m still creative in my own way, and each of our children is creative too. Don’t let them forget it!

6. Don’t let your child say “can’t”.

Adults are afraid of judgment. We are often so afraid we won’t be good enough that we don’t even try. When was the last time you shied away from an opportunity because there was a risk of failure? Think back to Apple’s campaign. Only those crazy enough to think they can change the world are those that will. Don’t let your child think that he or she can’t accomplish something.

I’ve found that adding “yet” to the end of those sentences really changes perspective. “I can’t cross the monkey bars!” K pouted as we played at the park. I assured her, “You may not be able to cross the monkey bars yet, but with extra practice, you’ll be swinging across them like a pro!”. I assured her not to be afraid of failure or judgment and to continue to push through to reach her goals.

Read more about lessons we’ve learned on the playground here.

7. Focus less on results and more on the journey.

Learning is not instantaneous; it’s a journey. It takes focus and determination. Your child needs praise for the effort put into learning, not just on the outputs of those efforts. Some things will come easier than others, and if we only praise results, then our children will become discouraged with the tasks that take longer to accomplish.

Furthermore, expectations have everything to do with achievement. If you’re told you’re going to struggle (or fail!), then your performance declines. Studies have proven that when students are told tasks are achievable with effort and patience, they’ll perform much better than if they’re told others have failed before them.

Recently, K has been freaking out about her school play; she’s so nervous that she will forget her lines. I keep assuring her that we will practice her lines many times until she has them so memorized she’ll be dreaming about them! Last night, we finally received the script. Daddy was in the car with us when we started practicing. He tried to encourage her and tell her she was doing great but followed it with an anecdote about a time he forgot his lines on stage. I quickly interrupted and comforted her by telling her Daddy was surely just kidding and that wouldn’t happen to her.

And you know what? Even if she does forget her lines, at least she had the courage to get up in front of an audience and her peers and try! I will definitely praise the effort and the journey to learning.

8. Give your child toys to encourage learning.

I was a Sociology major in college, so I read some pretty eye-opening studies about Barbie dolls and their perception on a girl’s self-esteem. I had no idea! More research was explained in this book though, research that hit me at my core. Girls who played with Barbie dolls were far less likely to believe women could hold the same professions as men; whereas, girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head dolls instead, rated much closer to gender equality in the workplace.

The authors stated, “Girls do just fine at math.” They’re so right! Girls tend to shy away from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects, games, or professions because they’ve been given toys their whole lives that cater to more traditional female roles (baby dolls instead of Legos). When you give your child toys that inspire creativity and learning, you’re setting her up for success.

8 Tips for Setting Kids Up for Success According to Science | Becoming Brilliant Review | Lessons from Becoming Brilliant | How to Raise Kids that are Respectful and Intelligent

Put it Into Practice

We can raise a better generation by challenging the parenting status quo and preparing our children to be more successful. Implementing these 8 simple but powerful tips will set you on the path toward better parenting. Don’t accept ordinary. Strive for extraordinary.

It all comes down to this: Encourage your children, always, in all ways. This will lead to each of the C’s: confidence, collaboration, communication, content, creativity, and critical thinking.

Parenting is an enormous responsibility, but I know you’re up for the task. You’re not like the other Moms, you’re a cool Mom.

Let’s change the world, Mama.


PS: Looking for more inspiration? Check out this article for tips to raise kids that aren’t entitled and rude!

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