Tag Archive for success

Are You a Parent or a Martyr?

Are you a martyr parent? Martyr parents love their children. They want their children to succeed. But they also harbor fears. They fear their child will feel bad when they don’t succeed. They fear their child will misbehave when frustrated by a task or limit. They fear their child’s self-esteem will falter if they don’t succeed easily and quickly. They fear feeling their own pain when they witness their child’s discomfort. (Why do I have to do everything?)

All these fears make them anxious every time their child struggles, becomes frustrated, or gets upset with a limit. As a result, martyr parents do whatever they can to alleviate their child’s frustration, stress, and anger.

Rather than let their child struggle with a homework assignment or coach them in asking their teacher for help, they do the homework for them. Rather than helping their child realize they can’t do every activity they would like, the martyr parent sacrifices their time and sanity to rush them from activity to activity. Martyr parents argue with teachers to reduce the homework that stresses their child. They give up their finances to get them everything they desire rather than risk their child’s tantrum over a strong limit or a firm “no.” (Learn to give A More Powerful No for Effective Parenting.)

In the process their child never develops the coping skills needed to deal with life. They don’t learn that their choices have consequences. They don’t learn how to prioritize and decide which activities they will pursue and which they will sacrifice due to time and financial constraints. They don’t learn problem-solving skills.

Instead, they witness their parents advocating for lower expectations around homework and chores. They witness parents saving them from stressful decisions or work struggles. They listen to their parents complain about time and finances as they rush from one activity to another. The implicit message they hear is, “You can’t do this on your own. You’re not capable. You’re incompetent. But everyone will sacrifice everything to make life easier for you.” Worse, they begin to believe that message and so avoid the difficult task. They let their parent do the work. Their growth is limited and their self-confidence struggles. (Sometimes it’s best for Good Parents to Do Nothing.)

What can a parent do to break out of the role of a martyr parent?

  • Realize that doing everything for your child is hurting them and you. They will become more competent and confident as you step back and quit doing everything for them…and Give Your Child the Gift of Confidence instead.
  • Think of one area  in which you are willing to step back and let your child engage in the struggle or face the consequences. Schoolwork is often a great place to start.
  • Take on the role of coach and teacher rather than fixer. Coach your child in understanding their options and let them problem-solve. Teach them the limits and the reason for the limits. Then teach them that choices have consequences by holding them accountable to the limits. Let them face the consequences of poor grades due to incomplete homework or loss of activity due to not doing a chore. Teach them that choices have consequences.
  • Decide how much time, energy, and finances you can invest in your children’s activities. Set a reasonable limit on activities based on those resources. That may mean limiting your child to one or two extracurricular activities at any one time. Then coach your child in thinking through their schedule and helping them prioritize what they like the most. Let them decide what they will continue or stop based on the limited resources available. (Managing Your Child’s Schedule…or Seeking Balance in the Devil’s Playground.)
  • Let your children stumble. You may see this as letting them fail. It’s ok. They don’t have to succeed at everything. They can mess up. They can have a bad day. They can be ordinary in some activity or skill…AND still be healthy, happy people. In fact, teach your children that failure is information, an opportunity to learn what does not work. Teach them to use the information gained through failure to “do better next time.” Teach your child to love mistakes.

These 5 steps will free you from the stress of being a martyr parent and allow your child to grow more competent, confident, and self-assured.

“Nice Guys Finish Last”… Really?

The research is in, straight from the University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business. Nice guys do not finish last.  Being disagreeable and selfish does not help you get ahead. The research confirming this actually involves two studies. (Read Being a Selfish Jerk Doesn’t Get You Ahead for a review.) The first study involved 457 participants to assess the relationship between power and disagreeableness. Disagreeableness involved quarrelsome, cold, callous, and selfish behavior as well as the use of deception and manipulation to reach goals. This study found no relationship between power and disagreeableness. Selfish, deceitful, aggressive people were no more likely to reach positions of power than those who are generous, trustworthy, and nice. Disagreeableness (quarrelsome, selfish, deception, manipulation) did not result in gaining power. Nor did it contribute to gaining power more quickly. 

The second study looked at four ways people can attain power. By looking at various manners of gaining power, the researchers were able to confirm that a disagreeable person’s lack of positive social interactions cancelled out the advantage any aggressive behavior might have offered. In addition, agreeable people in power achieved better outcomes than disagreeable people in power.

In summary, both disagreeable and agreeable people can attain positions of power, but agreeable people produce better results. The agreeable person motivates others to achieve their best, elicit greater work, and establishes an environment in which people work together more effectively. As a result, the agreeable person achieves greater results.

Why do I write this for a family website? Because our family environment helps shape the adults of tomorrow. Our family environment will either contribute to our children’s behavior, either agreeable behavior or disagreeable behavior. We can begin now to create an environment that will help them experience greater relationships and success as an adult. Here are 6 practices you can implement in your home that will help teach your children agreeableness.

What are some ways you teach your children to be agreeable?

Graduating Quiet as a Mouse? No Way!

My youngest daughter is one of the many young men and women graduating from college this year.  Like so many others during the covid-19 pandemic, she transitions quietly from one phase of life to another. No pomp and circumstance. No announcing of her name before a crowd of people. No walking across a stage to be given a congratulatory handshake as she receives her diploma. No cap thrown into the air with her classmates. No gathering of family and friends to celebrate. Just a quiet step from one stage of life into another.

But, do not let the forced isolation of this year’s graduation fool you. We recognize your hard work.  You have worked hard, and your hard work has paid off.  You have achieved a milestone in your life. We recognize your success.

I ask you not to let this time pass by without taking a moment to reflect in the quietness. Reflect on the long nights you conquered and the seemingly impossible demands you met. Reflect on the knowledge you have gained and the life experiences from which you have learned. Reflect and celebrate the friends you made, the joys you shared, and the obstacles you have overcome. I think you will discover, like I did, that although you are graduating quietly, you are more like a lion than a mouse. Yes, more like a lion quietly prowling through the tall grasses of anxiety and confusion that distract the world from seeing your hard-earned success. A lion stealthily studying the current climate, confidently looking for just the right moment and the right angle from which to gain the best gain in the current environment. Muscles primed for the quest of life’s next stage as you crouch, kneading the ground under your feet to assure good footing. Quietly preparing and watching for the right moment to pounce at full throttle into the next phase of life. Ready to conquer. Ready to run. Yes, you are much more like a lion.

But for now, it is quiet. Don’t worry. Wait patiently. Reflect on your accomplishments. Continue looking ahead to survey the possible opportunities. They will come and you will go. We have confidence in you and your ability, a confidence born from watching you achieve so much already, a confidence undergirded by our pride in who you have become.  Yes, we are proud of you. We may not be able to take you out to dinner or gather with friends and family to celebrate…we may not get the opportunity to applaud your success at a graduation ceremony…but, we are proud of you. We know you have worked hard. We watched you struggle with obstacles and overcome. We see you planning and waiting–patiently biding your time, itching to take that next leap. And we are as excited for your next step as you are. It will come. And when it does, you will leap. And through it all, we are behind you cheering you on. We are proud of you.

Pushed to Succeed-The New ‘At-Risk’ Group

We’ve heard a lot about adverse childhood events (ACEs) and how they detrimentally effect a child’s life. It makes sense. Trauma, abuse, bullying, poverty, parents who abuse drugs, incarcerated parents…these all have a negative impact on childhood and development. But, a recent “consensus study report” by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has added youth who attend high-achieving schools to this list of “at-risk youth.” (Students in high-achieving schools are now named an “at risk” group, study says—Washington Post.) In other words, a consensus has been reached among the National Academies of Sciences that an overemphasis on personal achievement puts our youth at risk just as much as poverty, abuse, and trauma. Sounds crazy at first. But, consider just the short-term negative impact of an overemphasis on achievement.

Don’t put your child at-risk by overemphasizing achievement. Instead, encourage them to do their best. Accept your children as “wonderfully ordinary.” (Overcoming Fear of the Ordinary) Teach them kindness, gratitude, and good character rather than overemphasizing achievement. You might be surprised as you do this. Your children might just achieve more as they experience your acceptance and grow more self-motivated in response.

This May Change How You “Do Vacation”

Summer is approaching and many families have started planning their summer activities. Maybe you plan on taking a summer vacation with your family this year. I hope you so. But before you plan your summer vacation, I want to tell you about a study that may change how you “do vacation” this year. This study deals with communication skills. In particular, it explored 6th graders’ ability to read nonverbal communications and emotional cues in others. The researchers divided a group of 6th graders into two groups. One group attended a 5-day, overnight nature camp with no TV, computers, or mobile phones. They had no digital screens for a full five days. Instead, they engaged in group outdoor activities (hiking, archery, learning survival skills) that promoted face-to-face interactions. The other group continued using screen time as usual. At the end of five days, the 6th graders who attended the 5-day nature camp without screens had improved their ability to understand nonverbal communications and to recognize emotions in others. The group that continued using social media stayed the same. It seems that practice leads to improvement…but so what? Who cares if our children learn to better read nonverbal communications and emotional cues in others? Because these skills translate into healthier relationships, better employment, and greater success in life…and we all want that for our children.  

What does this have to do with vacation? You can enhance your children’s social skills and increase their opportunities for healthier relationships, better employment, and greater life success by simply making your vacation free of TV’s, computers, and cellphones. Maybe you think it too much to eliminate them completely. Then you might consider at least cutting down screen time to a mere half-hour per day during vacation. I know it sounds crazy but contemplate the benefit of your children’s increased ability to understand nonverbal communications and emotional cues. Even more, think about the fun you’ll have interacting with one another, playing games, and sharing conversation. Imagine the things you will learn about one another, the experiences you will share, and the intimacy you will gain. It will be amazing…and the long-term benefit for your children’s communication immeasurable!

Do Your Child a Favor: LOVE Mistakes

One-hundred-twenty-three children played this video game, all 7-years-old.  No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. It’s the start of an interesting study about learning. Anyway, the children played a fast-paced game in which each player helped a zoo-keeper capture escaped animals by pressing the space bar when an animal appeared UNLESS…(there is always an “unless,” an exception) a group of three “orangutan friends” appeared. These “orangutan friends” were helping capture the other animals. They were “allies,” so the player had to refrain from capturing them. Although the children had fun playing the video game, the real purpose of the game was to test accuracy and impulse control (not pushing the space bar when the three “orangutan friends” appeared). One more thing you need to know—the whole time the 7-year-olds played, researchers monitored their brain activity. In particular, they wanted to know what happened in the brain when a child makes a mistake.

They discovered that some children exhibited a significant increase in brain activity about half-a-second after making a mistake, indicating their awareness of the mistake and their attention to what went wrong. These children exhibited improvement in their performance after making a mistake.

Another group of children did not exhibit this significant change in brain activity when they made a mistake. They seemed to “gloss over” the mistake and mentally avoid acknowledging it. Their performance did not improve. They continued to play and make the same mistakes over again.

Of course, the implication of these results seems obvious: when we pay attention to our mistakes we learn from them and improve our future performance. So why do so many children not pay attention to mistakes? Perhaps they have never learned the importance of acknowledging and learning from mistakes. As a parent, you can help remedy this situation and increase your children’s ability to learn by loving mistakes!

  1. Love your own mistakes. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. No need to get defensive or angry. Simply acknowledge the mistake. Attend to that mistake and figure out how you can avoid it in the future. In other words, learn from your mistake. Talk to your children about mistakes you have made, what you learned from those mistakes, and how you corrected it. Modeling this type of response to mistakes will create an environment in which your children are free to do the same.
  2. Love your children’s mistakes. When you children make a mistake, address it calmly and directly. Don’t belittle them for the mistake, but don’t gloss over it either. Don’t shy away from the mistake with a simply, “It’s OK, you’ll do better next time.” Address the mistake. “You made a mistake. Mistakes happen. Let’s figure out where you went wrong and how we can fix it.” The opportunity to figure the mistake out opens the door for improvement. So explore the mistake. Talk about the mistake and what might fix it. Then enjoy the solution.

When we love our mistakes children will learn to accept mistakes as a learning opportunity. They will delve into challenges with little fear of mistakes or failure because they know mistakes lead to growth. They will pay attention to their mistakes and improve the next time; and, as a result, they will enjoy greater confidence in the present and success in the future.

Build Your Child’s Success Mindset

I overheard two college students talking about their classes. I was eating a bagel but I couldn’t help overhearing. Their conversation went something like this:

“I can’t believe you got an ‘A’ on that test. I’m just not that good at math. But you’re smart.”

“Not really. I just sat with the study group and reviewed everything. That was a big help.”

Did you catch the difference in how these two students talked about success? Only the second student talked about studying and believed it helpful. “To study or not to study” flows from the student’s belief systems about self and growth. The first student seemed to believe her math knowledge is fixed. She’s “just not that good at math.” The second student believes study can lead to improvement. In fact, participating in a study group “was a big help.” Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, would likely say the first student shows a fixed mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes intelligence and ability are fixed or unchangeable. They spend time protecting their fixed ability by avoiding challenges and only engaging in activities in which they know they can succeed and, by succeeding, maintain their image. They tend to look at the end result for validation rather than the process and effort invested.

The second student displays more of what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe intelligence and abilities can be developed. They embrace challenges and persist in the face of obstacles. They persist because they believe effort will help them grow. When they encounter failure, they consider it an opportunity to learn what they can do differently to obtain greater success in the future.  For instance, they might try a different strategy, focus on a different detail, or develop a certain skill to help them experience future success. In other words, success comes through effort and intentionally improving strategies and skills.

As you can imagine, a growth mindset creates greater possibility for success. Fortunately, parents can help their children develop a growth mindset, one that focuses on the effort, strategies, and process that contribute to success. Parents teach children a growth mindset in the way they talk to their children. Consider the following examples.

Statements Promoting a Fixed Mindset Statements Promoting a Growth Mindset
“You’re really good at that.” “You put a lot of work into that.”
“You did poorly on that test. I guess it’s not your subject.” “You did badly on that test—what did you learn from the ones you missed?”
“You’re the only one who scored.” “What made you keep working so hard to score?”
“Nice job on that piano piece.” “Wow. That took a lot of practice. How will you challenge yourself to keep practicing the next one?”
“You are a good artist.” “I like the colors you chose. How have you worked to improve your talent?”
“That’s just not in your skill set, is it?” “What strategies might help you improve?”
“That was a terrible performance.” “What did you learn from that performance?”
“We won. That was a great game.” “What did you and your team do to make this game go so well.”
“I can’t get this.” “This is a challenge for you. What strategies have you tried? What new strategies could you try?”
“That was a big fail.” “It’s OK to take a risk. What can you do different next time after what you learned today?

Changing statements and questions from those that promote a fixed mindset to those that promote a growth mindset will help your children develop a growth mindset…and that will increase their chances of experiencing success in life!

A Lesson for Graduates from Blind Bartimeaus

My youngest daughter graduated from high school this year. She and several of her classmates have encountered many painful obstacles on their journey toward graduation. They have comforted one another through an unusually high number of struggles and deep losses. But, this year they received their diplomas and set their sights on higher Overcomehopes, greater dreams, and richer visions of conquest. As I watched them graduate, my mind wandered to the story of a man name Bartimeaus. Bartimeaus was blind. Like you, he faced many obstacles trying to get by each day. One day, he heard that a great Teacher, a Merciful Healer, was passing by amidst a crowd of people. Bartimeaus cried out to the Teacher for help. The Teacher didn’t respond, so Bartimeaus yelled louder. The people around the Teacher told Bartimeaus to give it up. Stop yelling. Just sit back and stay where you are, a blind man begging on the side of the road.  But blind Bartimeaus had a greater vision than those around him. He knew the Teacher was a Merciful Healer. Even though physically blind, Bartimeaus saw beyond the moment to greater possibilities. He had higher hopes. He brushed aside the naysayers and those who wanted to keep him down. He cried out above those who tried to silence him. He pursued is dream of gaining the Teacher’s attention. When everyone else told him to stop and give up, he persisted. He bet everything he had on the hope of being healed by the Merciful Healer. Then, it happened. The Teacher called for Bartimeaus. Bartimeaus threw aside his cloak and jumped up. He left everything he owned. He threw off every encumbrance to answer the Teacher’s call. He approached the Merciful Healer only to find one more hurdle. The Teacher presented one final obstacle. He asked Bartimeaus a question: “What do you want Me to do for you?” Without hesitation, Bartimeaus announced his deepest desire—to see. The Teacher granted him that desire and gave Bartimeaus his sight. His dogged determination had paid off. Having obtained the sight he had only dreamed of, Bartimeaus discovered yet another, even greater, reward. He saw the face of the Teacher who had given him his sight.

To my daughter and those who graduated with her, I know you have encountered several obstacles and struggles in your high school career. You will encounter many more as you continue your journey through life. Like Bartimeaus, don’t give up. You will encounter naysayers and people who want to keep you down. Call out for your dreams all the louder. People will try to deter you from reaching toward your dreams. They will try to convince you settle. They will tell you to sit back and stay where you are. Don’t do it; become yet more determined. They will try to silence you. Don’t let them. Persist more doggedly. When others try to dissuade you from Teacher’s dream in your life, pursue that vision even more vigorously. The Teacher will hear you. He will call for you. When He does, throw aside every encumbrance. Let nothing hold you back. He will likely ask you what you want (even though He already knows). Let your excitement overflow as you share your dream with Him. Proclaim the vision He has planted in your heart. Your steadfast pursuit, your tenacious persistence, and your resilient determination will pay off when you realize your deepest desire. And, you will gain an even greater reward when that happens. You will see the face of the One who has given you the strength to achieve the dream He planted in your heart. Keep your eyes on Him and never give up!

What To Do With Rude, Argumentative Teens

Research from the University of Virginia suggests argumentative, rude teens who pressure others to side may “grow up” to be argumentative, rude adults. More disturbing, these rude-teens-turned-rude-adults report high levels of communication and high levels of parenting challengesatisfaction in their relationships in spite of friends and romantic partners describing them as “impossible to get along with” or “impossible to talk to.” As rude teens, they developed “relationship blindness.” As adults, they remained “blind” to the impact of their negative behaviors on the people around them and their relationships with them. They do not pick up on social cues that allow them to adjust their behavior, to modify it from rude to polite, pushy to accepting, argumentative to cooperative. And, if there is one thing worse than a rude, argumentative teen, it’s a rude, argumentative adult who doesn’t even know how rude and argumentative they are!  None of us want our teens to grow up into a rude adult with “relationship blindness.” So, how do we make sure our teen’s normal argumentative behavior does not develop into relationship blindness leading to life as an argumentative, rude, and pushy adult?

First, and most important, model a better alternative. When you disagree with your spouse, model respect. Listen intently. Speak politely. Allow your spouse to influence you instead of stubbornly insisting he or she agree with you. Do the same with your peers. And, don’t forget to do the same with your teen. Listen tenaciously to understand your teen’s point of view. Remain polite toward your teen, even in the face of their seeming apathy. Look for areas of agreement. Even allow your teen’s point of view to influence you. Our teens learn best by watching us. So live the behavior you want to see in them. Model, model, model…and model again.

Second, provide times for you and your teen to talk.  Teens will become increasingly argumentative when they feel unheard and, as a result, ignored and devalued. Make time to converse. Listen rather than lecture. Become genuinely curious instead of interrogating to gather ammunition to support your perspective. Follow their lead and focus on their ideas and feelings rather than directing the conversation to the morals you desire to emphasize. Avoid giving unsolicited advice and offer simple door-opening responses like “really,” “that’s interesting,” “hmmmm,” or “what did you think/do?”

Third, talk with your teens about how rude, argumentative behavior impacts other people and relationships. Point it out in movies or sitcoms. Don’t overdo it. Just nonchalantly point out the impact of a character’s rude behavior and then go on to other aspects of the show. If they want to talk about the rude behavior, follow their lead. Otherwise, let it go. You can also use real life examples—examples from your own life or their life. Just don’t do it in a rude, argumentative way. Simply point out people’s response to polite behavior versus rude behavior. Point out the results of truly listening and responding to differences of opinion as opposed to constant arguing. Discuss the results of pushy behavior compared to the results of cooperative behavior.

Fourth, model a better alternative. Oh, wait. Did I already say this? Sorry. It’s worth saying it one more time though. Model the life you want your children to live!

Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success

Our children’s success depends on more than talent and ability. In fact, some children have amazing talent but still avoid challenges, shun effort, and shrink from difficulties. They often believe ability is static, fixed or unchanging. This “fixed mindset” (as Carol Dweck calls it in her book Mindset) interferes with progress and growth, hindering children from Fun on the ropesaccepting challenges. It encourages them to give up too soon. On the other hand, children with a “growth mindset” have learned that ability and intelligence can be nurtured and developed. As a result, they embrace challenges, persist when faced with obstacles, and believe effort leads toward mastery. As you can imagine, a growth mindset will contribute to success. In addition, children with growth mindsets don’t just get upset when they experience failure. They persist. They figure out how to improve. As a result, their abilities grow. Here are four ways you can help your children develop a growth mindset.

  • First, set your children up for success by setting achievable goals. Break larger goals into smaller objectives (goals) that are more easily and quickly attainable. Each time they achieve a goal, they experience the benefit of effort. They can see how smaller goals lead to greater goals. They learn to persist. As an example, break down the goal of “cleaning your room” into smaller goals like “make your bed,” “put your clothes away,” “pick up your toys and put them away,” etc.
  • When your children complete a goal or achieve some success, acknowledge their effort and the strategies they used rather than praising their intelligence or ability. Praising traits actually undermines motivation and performance by contributing to a fixed mindset. Consider some of these statements in praising and encouraging your children. Each of these statements will encourage a growth mindset.
    • I really love watching you play.
    • That looks like it took a lot of work.
    • Your hard work is definitely paying off.
    • I can tell you worked hard at learning that.
    • Wow, that took a lot of time and effort, didn’t it?
    • You never gave up.
    • You’re getting better every time.
    • I like that. How did you come up with that idea? Or, how did you learn to do that?
  • Ask your children questions that will promote a growth mindset. You might try some of these ideas.
    • What did you struggle with today?
    • What did you learn today?
    • What was the most interesting thing you did/learned today?
    • What was your biggest challenge this semester? How did you deal with it?
    • How did you figure that out?
    • How many ways did you try before it turned out the way you wanted?
    • That was a challenging situation. What did you learn from it?
    • Tell me more about how you did this?
    • I really like (name a specific aspect of what they have done). What do you like best?
    • What was the most difficult part of doing this? Learning this?
    • Some things take a lot of time to learn. Do you think this is one of them?
  • Use stories of successes that resulted from effort, persistence, and time. Use stories of well-known people (athletes, leaders, scientists, etc.) who overcame obstacles, persisted, and put in great effort to become well known in their field of expertise. Telling stories about family members who overcame obstacles in their life can prove even more effective. Tell about the time and effort family members invested in creating a positive legacy for your family. Stories that reveal the time, effort, and persistence invested in overcoming obstacles are a powerful tool in building growth mindsets.

These four steps will help you build a growth mindset in your children…a growth mindset that will help them embrace the challenges of life, persist in the face of life’s obstacles, and experience growth!

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