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Helping Kids Grow to Be “Successful” Adults

As parents, we all want what is best for our kids. We want them to be “successful,” right? I put that in quotes because I guess there can been some debate as to what is meant by “successful.” For some tiger parents, perhaps this means the child must become the high school valedictorian, go to an Ivy League college, and have a financially lucrative career with high status. Although many parents would like their kids to achieve some of these goals as well, I think there are some more important, fundamental goals that most parents probably share. As our kids grow into adults, we want them to:

  • Be happy
  • Be able to give and receive love
  • Have a successful career such that they are financially independent of us as parents
  • Have satisfying relationships with family members, friends, and, at some point, a significant other
  • Be an effective, loving parent themselves (someday!)
  • Contribute positively to society

How do we help them to achieve these goals? Perhaps one of the most important recommendations that gets overlooked is to recognize that our kids share these same goals! I’ve never met a kid who has honestly said that he/she would like to be living with their parents when they are in their 20’s and 30’s, wants to be sacking groceries at HEB his/her whole life, or prefers to be unhappy. In essence then, we are not trying to have our kids achieve our goals for them, we are trying to help them achieve their own goals for themselves.
This is a critical perspective shift that should affect many interactions with our kids. So, rather than telling kids what they need to be doing (e.g., study harder, do your homework, stay out of trouble with the law), it is often more beneficial to ask kids what they want and support them in achieving their own goals.
How does this look? You might ask your child/teen questions such as:

  • What kinds of grades are you satisfied with?
  • How much studying per day do you think it takes to help you to earn the grades you want?
  • Do you want to graduate from high school with your current group of classmates?
  • Do you want to go to college?
  • What college would you like to go to? Do you know what kinds of grades/scores it takes to get in there?
  • What are some ideas you have to keep yourself safe at parties? Out of trouble with the law?
  • What would a successful job/career look like to you?

Perhaps your child doesn’t have these goals clearly in mind, but this line of questioning (done in a compassionate way, NOT as an inquisition!) can help your child to formulate and crystallize their own goals. Then, as parents, we should try to partner with our kids to help them to achieve their own goals. It is NOT us versus them – we are actually on the same team. But we, as adults, are on their team. Approaching our kids from this perspective can make a world of difference. Instead of being in a tug-o-war, we are on the same side and working toward the same ends. Kids appreciate this approach because it assumes that they already have positive goals rather than viewing them as clueless and incompetent. And who wants to be viewed and treated that way?

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