The word "success" is kind of controversial if you look at it from the perspective of a parent. Yes, you want to support your child's dreams regardless of whether they align with society's definition of success or not, but you also want to be able to brag about their achievements to your friends. Don't pretend like you've never been excited about your little one’s recent milestone for the sole reason that you get to "casually" mention it the next time you run into your friend, Supermom, in the organic produce aisle of Whole Foods. But really, a healthy definition of success comes from identifying what is gained from the experience. Every situation offers an opportunity to grow, and you grow in the direction of your gaze. Teach your kiddos to set their sights for the top of the ladder and appreciate each rung along the way. Here are some things to remember:
1. Social skills matter
With the incredible amount of personal information online and across social media platforms, our little ones have a unique opportunity to present themselves in a way that is farther reaching and begins at an earlier age. Networking has become a simple as Googling someone and then stalking them across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, then adding them to your virtual network of acquaintances. The first impression no longer happens the first time they meet someone. Being good at people is a success in itself and a skill that is pretty much required for "traditional" success. Being able to assess how others may view them or their actions, and adjusting choices accordingly, should absolutely fall under social success. Making and keeping friends is the first step toward the long-term development of social skills.
2. Having high expectations for your child is always a good thing
Your kiddos need to know that you see their potential and expect them to excel because you know that they are capable of it even if they are afraid or hesitant. The complications only come when those expectations are too specific and leave no room for the child to meet them in his or her own way. For example, my daughter is incredibly intelligent and has mastered skills well beyond her expected comprehension level. At 3, she is already academically prepared for kindergarten (excuse me while I brag a little) so of course, I have higher expectations for her academic growth with the understanding that her emotional development is right on track with the average 3-year-old (epic tantrums and power struggles included). I expect her to be able to read and spell words beyond her grade level, but not to sit still while she does it, and I certainly do not expect her to learn every new word perfectly without a meltdown or several in the process.
3. Value effort over results
I am a results-focused person, so it is always difficult for me to appreciate the amount of work I have put into a challenge if the outcome is something less than ideal. I definitely don't want my little ones to deal with that dysfunction, so I try to give them lots of opportunities to work on something and be rewarded for the effort before we focus on the result. Keeping their room clean is a good example of this. All three of us will pick up toys and clothes together, putting things away as we go. Have you ever seen how a 21-month-old folds laundry? Or how a 3-year-old makes the bed with towels instead of sheets? Yeah, gotta focus on the sincere effort and not the result—Mommy ends up doing it all again later anyway. Give your kiddos a high five, tell them the towel-bed with the laundry stuffed underneath looks awesome, and let them enjoy the self-esteem boost.
4. Set a good example
Another not-so-awesome side effect of having kids is that you're watched closer than the Kardashians by your own little paparazzi. You have to be aware of the messages you're sending with your actions. Verbalize disappointment by saying things like, "I'm very tired, but it's going to feel so good when I'm all done cleaning the kitchen!" or, "This recipe didn't come out very well, let's try making it again tomorrow." Let your little ones see you working through frustration and difficulty in a positive way. For example, we are a commuter family living about an hour and a half away from work and preschool. Every once in a while, when traffic is particularly bad, Evyn will say, "Whew that was a long drive. Good job Mommy!" and then run off to play in her room with Quinn when we finally get home. Let them know that you appreciate it when they offer encouragement, because it means they recognize that effort should be praised.
5. Encourage a good attitude
Teach your child to see every situation as an opportunity to learn something new or practice an old skill.
Set the expectation that every situation requires focus and effort, and that half-assed effort doesn't cut it. Having a good attitude in a less than perfect situation shows stress resilience and the beginnings of good character. Teach them to "say it with a smile" and look on the bright side, because a child that remembers their failures like silly anecdotes is a happier human being.
6. Make building a healthy relationship with your kiddos a priority
Before you can impart your knowledge and life experience to your little ones, they have to be willing recipients. Numerous studies have concluded that a solid interpersonal relationship with one or both parents (or other primary caregivers) fosters an environment of support and achievement, and will ease the challenges that inevitably come when your darling baby becomes a defiant teenager. You want your children to feel secure enough in their relationship with you that they aren't afraid to epically fail because they know you'll be there to celebrate the effort and help them clean up the mess, if necessary.
7. Teach them to handle stress and failure early
There will be failures ahead for your kiddos. And probably a lot of them. This is actually good news because, with the right mindset, your child is being given lots of opportunities to learn and grow. Let them try new things and be their supporter, not their savior. No one wishes helplessness on their kids. A little stress breeds creative thinking and problem solving, but sometimes too much stress can be overwhelming for your kiddos. Come up with a little gesture to help your child remember that you're there to support them. For us, it's a big hug and taking a couple of deep breaths together.
Nurture your child’s ego and their resilience by helping them feel successful now, regardless of the challenge. You will be encouraging them to define success for themselves in the future and the ability to resist the temptation to weigh their successes on someone else's scale. The world will challenge, and at times, disappoint our kiddos. Our job as parents is to raise them up high enough that no matter how many times they get knocked down, they'll never hit the ground.