Don’t we all want our kids to be happy and successful? Wouldn’t it be great if at birth, we were given the “short list” of surefire instructions that, if followed closely, promised happy, wonderful children?
There is an incredible amount of information we have about raising kids now. Maybe it’s too much, but there are a couple of things that research shows to be significant predictors of how well a child will do in life.
This weekly column about parenting issues is written by local early childhood experts. It publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.
The first is resilience, the ability to cope with the stress caused by challenging situations. Why is it that some kids just seem to roll with the punches and others go to pieces? Experts say it has a lot to do with how resilient a child is.
We can promote resilience by developing a child’s awareness and regulation of his own feelings as well as skills and strategies for letting others know how he feels. This can start with even a 2-year-old by saying: “I can sure tell that you are sad.” It helps them put how they’re feeling into words.
Try to engage in positive parent-child interactions such as reading together or talking about their day at school. Also, having regular routines to follow helps because predictability makes a child feel safe.
It is our job as parents to help a child learn from hardships or losses, so this may mean some cozy bedtime talks and not trying to fix everything ourselves. A child who constantly is bailed out of trouble never learns to take responsibility for his or her own actions or reactions.
Another good predictor of how successful a child will be is how much he or she is able to delay gratification.
There was a clever study done in which researchers gave several 4-year-olds each a marshmallow. They were told if they could keep from eating it for 15 minutes, they would be given two. The results were hilarious: Some smelled and smelled it, others just popped it right in their mouths, still others tried to eat out the inside and make it look as if none were missing. The study results were very interesting after following these same kids for 15 years. The kids who could delay their gratification by not eating it were almost, to a person, successful. They were all either in college getting good grades and enjoying life or had started their own businesses and were proud of themselves.
Delaying gratification seems to be one of the most important skills to learn to have a satisfying life. I think we can help our children with this by helping them to set goals for things that they want and by not overindulging them so they never really get to want for anything.
Another way to effectively delay our gratification is to teach a child to distract themselves. When there is something they want so bad and right now, teach them to imagine a different pleasure.
A final predictor, illuminated in a study at Duke University, was how much kids know about their families. They asked the kids 20 questions about the knowledge they had of their families, things they couldn’t find out on their own such as where did your parents meet, where did they grow up and which relative do they most resemble? The ones who knew a lot about their families tended to do better when they faced challenges. The more they knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control was over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the lower their levels of anxiety. This is probably because they felt part of something larger than themselves.
You really can have fun with this one, playing “guess who this is” with old family photos or telling the funny stories about crazy uncle Bob. The kids will love it.
Kathy Northcutt is the director of Horizons Child and Family Services. Horizons has been a member of the Routt County Early Childhood Council since its inception in 1997.
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