Five rules smart parents never break
Daniel Wong is a learning and personal development expert, as well as a certified youth counselor. A sought-after speaker and coach, he is also the best-selling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers programmes to help students attain exam excellence while also finding happiness and fulfillment, and to empower parents to motivate their unmotivated teenagers. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-books, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?" and "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision". The views expressed are his own.
Nobody likes rules. We associate rules with structure and rigidity—that doesn't sound fun at all.
But I'm sure you'll agree with me that it's necessary to have some rules. Imagine the chaos if there were no traffic rules, or the lawlessness if there were no rules in sports.
In a similar way, there are parenting rules that exist—and that shouldn't be broken—if you want to raise happy, healthy and successful children. By the end of this article, you'll know what five of these rules are and how to apply them.
I developed these rules based on the extensive work I've done with both youths and parents, so these are parenting rules from the child's perspective.
Rule #1: Focus on progress, not performance
We live in a society that's obsessed with key performance indicators (KPIs) as a measure of success.
It's no surprise that we take the same approach when it comes to parenting. Parents closely monitor their children's performance in exams, co-curricular activities, and many other areas too.
But when parents are overly focused on performance, children often start to think that all that matters is the outcome, not the process.
It's crucial that parents help their children to understand that life is a continuous journey of learning, improving and developing. Results are important, but the growth process is far more important.
For children who don't understand this, their self-worth can become based entirely on their performance, which is detrimental to their future development.
If you're a parent, I encourage you to make an intentional effort to acknowledge the positive behaviour or attitude demonstrated by your children, so that they'll concentrate on these areas which they have control over in trying to reach their desired outcomes.
This will put the attention on being engaged in the process, rather than being concerned only about the results.
Rule #2: Allow your children to make mistakes
All parents want their children to be perfect. This implies that their children don't make mistakes.
Of course, we all know that no one's perfect, but you'd be surprised at how hard many parents try to prevent their children from making any mistakes at all.
It's through mistakes that children learn and grow, so parents should allow children to make plenty of errors. It goes without saying, however, that if your children are about to do something criminal or physically dangerous, then you should step in.
Don't shelter your children from experiences where they're likely to go through some amount of struggle, disappointment and pain, because these experiences are the ones that will shape your children for the better.
Rule #3: Show your children respect
Please don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that you become a pushover or that you let your children walk all over you.
It's important to set clear boundaries and expectations for your children, but this should be done respectfully.
Parents tend to greatly value obedience from their children, and they feel like they aren't good parents if their children are disobedient.
While obedience is important, it can sometimes come at the expense of the parent-child relationship. Your children might be extremely obedient when you're around (yet secretly resent you), but may change their behaviour completely when you're not around.
The true test of parenting is how your children adapt to life in the "real world" once they leave home. This means that the primary goal of parenting isn't to nurture children who are obedient; instead, it's to nurture children who are mature and independent.
Show respect to your children by involving them in the decision-making process whenever possible, asking for their opinions, and never speaking to them as if they'll never be able to make wise choices on their own.
Firmly establish the expectation within your family that the respect should be mutual, meaning that your children should also communicate respectfully with you.
Rule #4: Avoid praising your children for their intelligence (or any other trait that isn't under their direct control)
It's common to hear parents say the following to their children:
Dr. Carol Dweck, world-renowned psychologist at Stanford University, has done some fascinating work on just how harmful it can be to children when you praise them in this way.
(Coincidentally, I had the honour of co-presenting with Dr. Dweck at an education conference last month. Her research is incredible, and she's a really nice person too!)
When parents praise their children for characteristics that largely cannot be controlled, such as intelligence or beauty, the children can become obsessed about living up to these labels.
Take intelligence as an example. If your daughter answers a science question correctly and you say to her "Wow, so smart!", what do you think she'll start to associate being "smart" with? Naturally, with being able to solve science questions.
Dr. Dweck discovered that children who are praised for being "smart", like in the example I just mentioned, tend to avoid trying out challenging problems in the future, because this would put their "smartness" in jeopardy.
As a parent, I'm sure you want your children to take the initiative in stepping outside of their comfort zone and taking on new challenges. So what should you do instead?
Praise them for their effort and their choices. Rather than saying "Wow, so smart!" to your daughter, you could say something like this instead: 'That was a challenging question that you just solved. I saw that you spent 30 minutes getting to the final solution. That's a good effort. I'm proud of you for putting in the time to make sure you really understand the concept. Aren't challenges fun?"
This kind of praise helps to instill in your children the understanding that challenging tasks are fun. Unfortunately, many children grow up with the mindset that challenging tasks should be avoided!
Rule #5: Allow natural consequences to run their course, unless there are very good reasons not to
Many parents confess to me that they nag their children.
All. The. Time.
So if you feel like you're a serial nagger, rest assured that you're not alone. In fact, parents frequently share with me that they feel like nagging is the only weapon in their arsenal to try and get their children to comply — but that it hardly ever works.
Instead of nagging, I recommend that, as much as possible, parents allow natural consequences to run their course. Consequences are often the best teacher. After all, adapting to the "real world" is all about making choices and dealing with the consequences of those choices.
For instance, if your son forgets to bring his completed homework assignment to school, don't bail him out. When his teacher punishes him, he'll learn the importance of being organised so that he won't forget to bring his homework to school the next time.
Here's another example. It's common for children to leave their dirty clothes — usually their school uniform — lying on the floor, instead of placing them in the laundry basket. (It's even better if you've trained your children to do their own laundry, because then you definitely won't have this issue!)
A lot of parents will nag at their children not to repeat this behaviour, but will pick up the dirty school uniform and put it in the laundry basket anyway.
I encourage you not to do this. Instead, allow the natural consequences to run their course. Eventually, your children won't have any clean school uniform to wear, and they'll be forced to re-wear their dirty ones.
Once the dirty school uniform starts smelling bad enough, their friends will probably notice, and might not even want to hang around them because of the stench.
Quite quickly, your children will learn that it's a good idea to put their dirty clothes in the laundry. And you won't even have to nag!
It's important that when you allow natural consequences to occur, you don't do so with an "I told you so" attitude. That attitude is sure to cause your children to become both annoyed and angry with you.
On the contrary, your tone and attitude should communicate to your children that you're on the same team as them, and that you want them to find long-term success.
Some rules in life can be broken. But if you break the five rules described in this article, you may end up with a broken relationship with your children, which may affect their chances of success later on in life.
I encourage you to give it a try following these rules, and see how well your children respond.
Wishing you all the best on the crazy and exciting journey of parenthood!
Daniel offers programmes to help students become both happy and successful and to help parents to connect more effectively with their children. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-books, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?" and "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision".