How to raise successful kids without overparenting

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Moms and dads often feel like they can’t win. If they pay too much attention to their kids, they’re helicopter parents; too little, and they’re absentee parents. What’s the happy medium that will result in truly happy, self-sufficient kids? Here are five tips.

1. Give your kids things they can own and control.

“Enlist the children in their own upbringing. Research backs this up: children who plan their own goals, set weekly schedules and evaluate their own work build up their frontal cortex and take more control over their lives. We have to let our children succeed on their own terms, and yes, on occasion, fail on their own terms. I was talking to Warren Buffett’s banker, and he was chiding me for not letting my children make mistakes with their allowance. And I said, ‘But what if they drive into a ditch?’ He said, ‘It’s much better to drive into a ditch with a $6 allowance than a $60,000-a-year salary or a $6 million inheritance’.“

— Bruce Feiler, writer and author of The Secrets of Happy Families

2. Don’t worry about raising happy kids.

“In our desperate quest to create happy kids, we may be assuming the wrong moral burden. It strikes me as a better goal, and, dare I say, a more virtuous one, to focus on making productive kids and moral kids, and to simply hope that happiness will come to them by virtue of the good they do and the love that they feel from us. I think if we all did that, the kids would still be all right, and so would their parents — possibly in both cases even better.”

— Jennifer Senior, writer and author of All Joy and No Fun

3. Show your kids that you value who they are as people.

“Childhood needs to teach our kids how to love, and they can’t love others if they don’t first love themselves, and they won’t love themselves if we can’t offer them unconditional love. When our precious offspring come home from school or we come home from work, we need to close our technology, put away our phones, look them in the eye and let them see the joy that fills our faces when we see our child. Then, we have to say, ‘How was your day? What did you like about today?’ They need to know they matter to us as humans, not because of their GPA.”

— Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and author of How to Raise an Adult

4. Teach your kids to help out around the house — without being asked.

“We absolve our kids of doing the work of chores around the house, and then they end up as young adults in the workplace still waiting for a checklist, but it doesn’t exist. More importantly, they lack the impulse, the instinct to roll up their sleeves and pitch in and look around and wonder, How can I be useful to my colleagues? How can I anticipate a few steps ahead to what my boss might need?”

— Julie Lythcott-Haims

5. Remember that the little things matter.

“Quite small things that parents do are associated with good outcomes for children — talking and listening to a child, responding to them warmly, teaching them their letters and numbers, taking them on trips and visits. Reading to children every day seems to be really important, too. In one study, children whose parents were reading to them daily when they were five and then showing an interest in their education at the age of 10 were significantly less likely to be in poverty at the age of 30 than those whose parents weren’t doing those things.”

— Helen Pearson, science journalist and author of The Life Project

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