Beyond Grades and Trophies, Teaching Kids the Definition of Success
By Amanda Stupi
In her new book Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, psychologist and author Madeline Levine exposes the pitfalls of over-parenting, and argues for a new definition of success and achievement.
Levine uses the term “authentic success” to differentiate success as it is traditionally viewed: titles, money, good grades, and prestigious schools. In the forward to her book, Levine writes that parents also need to encourage kids to “know and appreciate themselves deeply; to approach the world with zest; to find work that is exciting and satisfying, friends and spouses who are loving and loyal; and to hold a deep belief that they have something meaningful to contribute to society.”
Levine joined host Dave Iverson on KQED’s Forum to discuss her book. Here are some tips that surfaced from the conversation.
1. REMEMBER THE BASICS
According to Levine, research shows that “the four most important factors in parenting are reliability, consistency, stability and non-interference.” She says that most people don’t argue with the first three but that she receives push back on the last one — non-interference. Levine says learning from mistakes (the kind that occur when parents don’t interfere) is an important skill — one that employers say too many young workers lack.
2. BUILD A GOOD FOUNDATION
“We’ve all become these decorators as opposed to construction workers. What kids really need is not the right curtains i.e. the right schools, the right grades, but they need a strong foundation. So many parents are busy paying attention to the decorative aspect of their child.”
3. SPEND TIME WITH YOUR KIDS
Research shows that eating dinner with your kids is a good habit to maintain. But many parents over-think it. When asked about eating dinner with her own kids, Levine says “It wasn’t brilliant, deep conversation with three boys every night about how they felt about things, not by a long shot.” What mattered was that she spent time with them.
Levine says to emphasize play time, down time, and family time, or P.D.F.
“It’s in that quiet space that you actually get to know who your child is and that’s your primary job as a parent.” And don’t worry if progess is slow going. Levine says “Getting to know your child is a quiet, long process.”
4. ESTABLISH INTERNAL DEFINITION OF SUCCESS
Levine says that both parents and children need to shift from an external, performance-oriented version of success to an internal version that embraces “real curiosity about learning and how the child experiences things.”
Instead of equating a high grade with effort and intelligence and a low grade with a lack thereof, switch to questions like ‘Did you learn anything new on the test?’ or ‘What was the test like for you?’”
Encourage children “to go inside and evaluate for themselves.” At the end of the day that’s what I think authentic [success] means,” says Levine.
5. LET KIDS FAIL
According to Levine, letting kids fail is “one of the most critical things” parents can do. She encourages parents to remember how often toddlers fall when they’re learning to walk.
“That’s the model in life, for how kids master things. If we swooped in at the first stumble, a child wouldn’t learn how to walk. She walks because she fails over and over and over again with our continued encouragement and presence.”
6. FOCUS ON CHILD’S STRENGTH
“When you grow up you only have to be really, really good at one or two things. This idea of being good at everything, straight A’s, building water treatment plants in the Sudan and being the captain of the lacrosse team is so unrealistic.”
“We spend so much time with tutors or worrying about a kid who has difficulty in one field as oppose to concentrating on their strengths.”
7. DON’T DROWN YOUR KIDS IN PRAISE
Levine emphasized that one of the most important things parents can do for their children is to hold back the praise – that’s correct, you shouldn’t constantly tell your children that they are great.
“We seem to be under the impression that you can graft self-esteem onto your children if you just tell them enough how special they are. The reality is that self-esteem comes out of competence. How do you get confident about something? You get better at it.”
Levine explains that telling children they’re good at something builds pressure and expectations and that the possibility of not meeting those expectations works against kids.
“The risk for the child then becomes very great.”
Listen to the Forum interview here.