Childhood giftedness is a great start, but it doesn’t predict happiness, success, or fulfillment across the life span. What does the research say about parents’ roles in helping their kids become happily productive adults?
The single most important ingredient in the early days, weeks, and months of life is the security of a home environment characterized by loving warmth. Infants who develop an early attachment to a caregiver—usually a mother—do a lot better over the life span than those who don’t. Parenting characteristics of a secure and loving environment include emotional attunement, reassurance and comfort, holding and snuggling, and listening and responding to children’s needs.
Kids do best whose early home experience includes warmth, acceptance, sensitivity, stimulation, and engaged conversation. That means limiting electronic (and other) distractions when you’re spending time with your kids. Device-focused parents don’t look their kids in the eye as often, hear what they have to say, pick up on their feelings, or transmit that sparkle in the eye that makes children (and adults) feel valued.
Toddlers and children benefit enormously from opportunities for playful interaction with the world around them. Benefits of ample time for unstructured playful exploration include better self-regulation, self-awareness, and collaboration skills; greater ownership of one’s own learning; and a freer creativity and imagination.
Ability develops more quickly and easily for young children who are exposed to a variety of stimuli to all their senses: music, dance, physical play, visually interesting surroundings, walks in nature and the neighbourhood, interesting shapes and textures they can taste, touch, and manipulate. Outdoor playtime opens up a world of possibilities that can expand kids’ imaginations; stimulate all their senses; free their spirits; and make them calmer, more optimistic, healthier, more creative, and more successful at school.
Time for doing nothing—aka ‘restful neural processing’—is essential to children’s optimal learning and happiness over the long run. Ample time for contemplation and reflection can improve the quality of kids’ outward attention, contributing to memory-building, meaning-making, and learning-transfer. Children who engage in mindful introspection perform and plan better, and are more motivated and less anxious than others.
One of the best ways for parents to ensure their kids get the important benefits of reflection is to model it themselves. So give yourself permission to do a bit of daydreaming now and then, or, even better, practice mindful meditation.
A passionate desire to explore, understand, and create is at the heart of all high-level achievement, and is the wellspring of happy productivity across the life span. You can encourage your child’s passions by exposing her to rich and varied experiences, following her curiosities, supporting the development of her knowledge and skills, ensuring ample time for play and reflection, and valuing grit and resilience.
Parents also contribute to kids’ eventual well-being and success when they follow their own passions. In addition to supporting kids in finding and exploring their interests, they can model the joys and challenges of engagement, curiosity, and exploration.
Children who learn to feel gratitude for what’s good in their own lives find pleasure in helping others, and make friends at the same time. Others miss out on these pleasures because of feelings of entitlement, thinking it’s smart to take care of themselves and ignore the needs and feelings of others.
Gratitude can be learned, and leads to increased well-being, happiness , energy, optimism, empathy, and popularity. Appreciation and awe—which parents can best teach by living it out in their own lives—can inspire gratitude in kids, and encourage them to live that out with others.
As children get older, they benefit from falling down and learning to get back up on their own—with their parents’ loving support—thereby acquiring the resilience needed for adult success. Kids with a growth mindset learn to welcome setbacks as learning opportunities. Grit develops when they discover the benefits of working through challenges, persisting through tough times, and staying with their passions long enough to achieve meaningful outcomes.
This perspective leads to perseverance through troubles, and the realization that hard work over time is what leads to success and fulfilment—a winning perspective!
By providing a loving home and ample opportunities for unstructured play, as well as supporting kids’ reflection, passion, gratitude, and grit, parents increase the likelihood of their kids living happily productive lives.
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