Father Holding Daughter's Hand

Raising Happily Productive Kids in Every Kind of Family The Same Rules Apply Whether You’re Divorced, Single, Gay, or ‘Normal’


Father Holding Daughter's Hand The principles of wise parenting are timeless, and apply across all situations. What works to support children’s optimal development works, whether you’re raising your kids in a traditional family, in the midst of divorce, part of a gay couple, or doing anything else that doesn’t look like ‘Leave It to Beaver.’ Here are ten rules for raising happily productive kids, no matter what kind of family you’re creating.

Yes, alternative family compositions bring unique challenges. Families going through divorce are in a vulnerable and potentially volatile restructuring process. Single parents usually have fewer resources to help them through times of trouble. Gay parents can experience prejudice and criticism, and so can their kids. Adoption brings its own set of challenges. Raising kids across more than one culture or religion can be dicey. But lots of traditional families experience problems too. Abuse happens in every kind of family, as do alcoholism, mental illness, and economic pressures.

Family composition is less important to children’s long-term development than kindness, boundary-setting, and meaningful learning opportunities. A single mother or two gay fathers can provide everything a child needs to become a happily productive adult. Such parents need to find sources of emotional and social support, but so does every other parent, no matter the situation.

I’ll briefly describe some current research on three non-traditional family groupings. Then I’ll outline the ten basic rules for raising happily productive kids, rules that apply to all parents in all kinds of families.

Divorce and child development

As with other changes in a family’s structure, there are many possible effects of divorce on every aspect of a child’s development. Kids can become depressed, suicidal, or angry. They can become antisocial or excessively social. They can become mistrustful of close relationships, or hypersexual. Their grades might plummet, or the child might throw himself into schoolwork to the exclusion of everything else. Kids can develop eating disorders or any number of other psychological problems.

None of these effects is inevitable. In fact, the preponderance of current research shows that most children are beginning to function reasonably well within two years after their parents’ divorce. How the parents handle the divorce makes a big difference in how well children get through it, very much including the support the children get in navigating the inevitable period of disruption.

Divorce can actually bring benefits to children, especially those whose pre-divorce experience included fear, chaos, unpredictability, or abuse. Children can begin to thrive when one or both parents create home environments that are calmer and more dependable. Children who feel loved and supported through the divorce process and whose parents negotiate custody amicably can become more competent and capable. When one or both parents move on to create fulfilling lives for themselves, divorce can help children learn about coping with changes and setbacks in their own lives.

Single-parent families

It’s normal for single parents to experience a sense of overload at least some of the time. They struggle to find enough time, energy, and money to do everything that needs doing. Regardless of the financial situation, it can feel overwhelming when there’s no other adult with whom to share the joys and worries of parenting, as well as the daily tasks of life—shopping, cooking, reading bedtime stories, cleaning, taking kids to appointments, and all the rest of it.

Single parents do best when they develop networks of social support. Friends and relatives who care about the children can ease the burden, as well as providing alternative role models and adult confidants for the children.

Single parents need to pay attention to their own physical, intellectual, and social needs if they’re to do the best possible job with their kids. This is no more or less true for single parents than others, but it can be harder to make it happen when there’s just one adult trying to handle all the tasks of the household.

Same-sex parenting

Same-sex parenting has been controversial for some time, but as the research accumulates, it becomes increasingly clear that gay couples can raise kids just as well as other couples. Researchers at Columbia Law School have launched a project that pulls together all the peer-reviewed studies in this area. They’ve concluded that, in general, kids with gay parents do just as well as others.

Depending on where they live, the children of same-sex parents can experience social pressures that other kids don’t. They can be subject to bullying and prejudice similar to that experienced by mixed-race families in previous years (and in some communities still). There is an additional stressor placed on same-sex parents to ensure their kids feel safe, confident, and well-informed, but at the end of the day, the same factors that apply in situations of divorce, single parenting, and adoption apply in families where there are two parents of the same sex: love, support, and guidance make a much bigger difference than who’s doing the parenting.

Raising Happily Productive Kids: Ten Basic Rules that Apply in Every Kind of Family

  1. Practice loving attunement. Parents in non-traditional circumstances who realize the power of being present to their kids—patient, loving, engaged—are well on their way to overcoming any obstacles their family structure might entail. As frequently as you can through the day, make time to listen to your children, with love.
  2. Set and enforce dependable rules. Kids need reliable boundaries in order to feel safe. This is particularly important in alternative family situations where social and cultural norms don’t apply, and parents are tempted to break the rules in order to compensate for extra challenges they feel they’re imposing on their kids.
  3. Play. Free play nourishes children’s curiosity, self-awareness, and imagination. It also strengthens self-regulation, autonomy, decision-making, conflict resolution, and friendship skills.
  4. Hug a tree. Spending time in nature—even urban nature—reduces stress, increases optimism, improves health, stimulates the senses, frees the spirit, and enhances creativity. It also improves attention and focus, thereby increasing academic and other kinds of achievement.
  5. Discover enthusiasms. Help your kids engage in exploration and discovery activities in as many different areas as possible. Support them in developing their curiosities into passions.
  6. Daydream. The restful neural processing that occurs in daydreaming is essential to self-discovery and self-actualization. Busy kids need downtime in order to replenish their spirits and find their creative wellspring.
  7. Breathe. Mindful breathing helps kids manage stress, sleep soundly, and focus their attention. Mindful breathing helps them concentrate on tests and exams, and cope with challenging situations.
  8. Welcome setbacks. Teach your kids the importance of hard work, persistence, and patience. A growth mindset—welcoming setbacks as learning opportunities—leads to well-being and productivity in every area of life.
  9. Turn it off!  Most kids are spending way too much time on electronic devices. By limiting screen time, you’ll free up time for outdoor exploration, unstructured play, daydreaming, and self-discovery.
  10. Be grateful. People who actively appreciate what’s good in their lives feel better, happier, more energetic, more optimistic, and are more empathetic than those who feel entitled.

These ten parenting practices can help your children thrive, no matter your family structure. Temperament and other personality factors can also contribute to how well an individual child manages alternative parenting situations. Those with growth mindsets and positive attitudes to problem-solving do better at coping than those with fixed mindsets or dependent personalities. And those who seek and receive social support are more resilient than those who feel they can sort out their own problems.

If you follow these ten basic rules, you’re supporting your kids in making happily productive lives for themselves, both now and in the future.

For more on these ideas:

 Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster

‘Optimal Development across the Life Span,’ by Dona Matthews in The Creativity Post

‘26 Simple Gifts to Last Forever: An Alphabet List of Inexpensive Holiday Treasures for Children,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Play, Run, Skip: Physically active children are smarter, happier, and healthier,’ by Dona Matthews 

‘Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming,’ by Rebecca McMillan, Jerome Singer, and Scott Barry Kaufman)

The Science of Raising Happily Productive Kids,’ a podcast with Dona Matthews, by Scott Barry Kaufman

Is Divorce Bad for Children?Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld Scientific American

‘The Challenges of Single Parenthood,’ Healthy Children

‘Single Parenting and Today’s Family,’ American Psychological Association Help Center

 ‘Single Parent? Tips for Raising a Child Alone,’ by Mayo Clinic Staff

‘What We Know—Really—About Lesbian and Gay Parenting,’ by Nathaniel Frank

‘What Does the Scholarly Research Say about the Wellbeing of Children with Gay or Lesbian Parents?’ by the Public Policy Portal of the Columbia University Law School

 

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Ten Ideas for Parents Who Want to Raise a Happily Productive Child

front cover rszOn Dec. 7, 2014, I had a lot of fun doing a podcast interview with Scott Barry Kaufman. We had an interesting conversation about the nature and development of giftedness and talent, with some serious moments, and lots of laughs. He synopsized our talk brilliantly, writing, ‘Just had a delightful chat with Dona Matthews. I highly recommend her book, co-written with Joanne Foster, Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids.’

Scott went on, writing a great synopsis of many of the points Joanne Foster and I wanted to make in that book, framing it as ten ideas for parents, to help them raise a happily productive child:

  1. Be wary of your child’s “potential.” All children have a tremendous capacity for intelligence, no matter what anyone might predict, or how well they do on an intelligence test.
  2. Think about intelligence as a process rather than an innate essence that some people have more of than others. Intelligence is more about doing than being.
  3. Remember that intelligence develops incrementally, and varies across time, situations, and domains.
  4. Support your child’s particular kinds of intelligence. Each child has his own profile of different intelligences.
  5. Think carefully about the implications of any test results your child achieves, especially IQ. Scores don’t always mean what they seem to mean.
  6. Look for and encourage children’s involvement in music and second language learning experiences. These are valuable for all kids, but especially for those who don’t learn in traditional academic ways.
  7. Support your child in acquiring a growth mindset— the attitude that ability develops one step at a time, with hard work, persistence, and patience.
  8. Don’t praise your child for being intelligent. It’s better to be specific with your praise, by focusing on what she’s doing and how she’s doing it.
  9. Do praise your child for working hard. Thoughtful attention to detail (which can be painfully slow, challenging, and effortful) is how intelligence grows.
  10. Learn to have and display an open mind about obstacles, criticisms, and mistakes. Avoid blame. Think constructively about failures, seeing them as opportunities for learning about what needs more work.

You can find lots more about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids at www.beyondintelligence.net

Thank you, Scott Barry Kaufman! You can find his podcasts and more about his wide ranging work supporting the development of intelligence, creativity, and imagination at http://scottbarrykaufman.com/

child-studying

Intelligence, IQ, Tests, and Assessments: What Do Parents Need to Know? What Should They Tell Their Kids?

child-studyingWhat is intelligence? Do IQ tests measure it? What can parents expect by way of results and interpretation? What should parents tell their kids about the results?  How do test results help in deciding on an educational program? These are some of the thorny questions parents ask us about testing and their kids.

It’s a complicated and important topic that we’ve written an article about, published in the September 2014 issue of Parenting for High Potential. You can find the article here: Intelligence, IQ, Tests, and Assessments.

Here are a few of the fundamentals:

Intelligence develops step by step with the right kinds of supports and opportunities to learn. High-level abilities develop when children engage meaningfully in various forms of reasoning and a range of learning experiences, confronting challenges, overcoming obstacles, and developing resilience along the way. Parents can encourage their children’s interests and nurture their creativity and critical thinking. Parents can also help kids build their skills by modeling patience, persistence, and hard work in their own pursuits.

IQ tests have limitations. There are many reasons for test scores to underestimate a person’s abilities, including illness, test anxiety, language barriers, and lots more. Because intelligence tests include only a narrow range of abilities and are limited in many other ways, and because intelligence changes over time with learning opportunities, motivation, and effort, IQ scores are not accurate predictors of anyone’s future success. These scores can provide information about a child’s learning needs at a given point in time, but any comprehensive understanding of a person’s capacities should rest on careful consideration of other sources of information as well. These include observations, reports, and portfolios of completed assignments in different subject areas.

What should parents tell their child about test results? Parents who realize the limitations and temporary nature of test results can be honest with their child. They can provide as much information as the child is interested in, including test scores, as long as they make it clear that the scores are indicators of the way the child answered a bunch of questions in a certain circumstance on a given day, and are subject to change. Parents should emphasize practical implications, rather than numbers, saying things like ‘Your science scores weren’t as good as your language reasoning scores. Maybe we can find science stuff you’d like to learn about.’

“Now what?” When assessment results are thoughtfully interpreted by a professional, they can provide useful information for educational decision-making. They can inform parents about their child’s strengths and weaknesses, indicate practical implications for instruction and learning, and suggest available options. Well-informed parents can make better decisions for and with their child.

 

To discover more about testing—including types of tests, when to test, how to interpret test results, and how to make wise decisions for your kids—check out our recent book, Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, and additional resources at www.beyondintelligence.net.

mom reading with toddler

Reading to Kids: Ten Reasons It Matters, Ten Ways to Do It

mom reading with toddler“There’s nothing quite as powerful as listening to a child, reading to her, communicating with her, and staying attuned to her individual needs.” (Beyond Intelligence, page 1)

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now asking 62,000 pediatricians across the United States to talk to parents about the importance of reading to their kids, starting from birth. This is based on research showing that reading enhances children’s intellectual and social development, their creativity, and their academic success.

A child whose parents read to him is more likely to do well in every area of life. No matter what neighbourhood he’s growing up in, or where his parents come from, he’ll start school with a bigger vocabulary and better communication skills, find it easier to make and keep friends, be more confident in his interactions with others, stay in school longer, and end up doing better in every part of his life.

Why is reading to your kids a good habit to start early, and to continue as long as they enjoy it? We give ten reasons reading is critically important to children’s development, and ten ways parents can encourage their children’s development through books and reading. Each of these suggestions is supported by a quote from Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids.

Read more

teen on screens

Stop Worrying! Six Reasons to Get Over The Amount of Time Your Teenager Spends on Screens

A guest blog by Amy Poeppel

teen on screensThere’s no opting out of technology anymore. Despite our nostalgia, determination, and occasional self-righteousness, we are faced with the fact that computers, cell phones, and tablets are as much a part of our lives as food, underwear, and indoor plumbing. When I worked in the admissions department of a NYC private school, I encountered many parents who wanted to make technology nonexistent or at least inconsequential in the lives of their kids, but I never understood how that could work.

One morning I had an interview with an 11-year old boy who was completely screen-deprived. His parents were convinced that computers, and especially video games, are damaging to developing minds, so they kept their young son away from screens entirely. They believed in old-fashioned, wholesome fun – fresh air, board games, and books. Maybe they’re right, but what I saw was a kid so obsessed with computers, that I couldn’t conduct a constructive interview with him. All he wanted to talk about, literally all, was access to computers at our school.  Read more

mom and little girl reading

Read to Your Child, Starting at Birth: It’s Good for Learning, Thinking, Imagining, and Relating

mom and little girl readingA child whose parents read to her, starting from birth, is more likely to do well in every area of life. She’ll start school with better language skills, find it easier to make and keep friends, feel better about herself, stay in school longer, and do better, both personally and professionally. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics is now asking 62,000 pediatricians across America to talk to parents about the importance of reading. Read more

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An Interview about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids

front coverIn an article posted on June 21 at www.educationnews.org, Michael Shaughnessy interviewed Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids. He asked some tough questions, including what parents’ responsibilities are for nurturing their children’s creativity and intelligence, what parents can do to reduce kids’ stress around standardized testing, and whether parents (or teachers) should be responsible for kids’ developing social skills.

You can see the interview posted here: http://www.educationviews.org/interview-dona-matthews-joanne-foster/

How Parents Can Help Their Kids Build Their Intelligence

How Parents Can Help Kids Build Their Intelligence

How Parents Can Help Their Kids Build Their Intelligence

Children don’t start off smart. They become that way over time, with the right kinds of supports and learning opportunities at the right times in their lives. Here are four ways parents can actively participate in their child building a foundation for his or her intelligence:

1.      Appreciate your child’s unique profile of abilities:

  • Recognize that children’s abilities vary by domain—math, music, language, social, etc.—and that each child has a unique profile of intelligences. A child who’s highly capable in one area may have learning challenges in another area.
  • Pay attention to your child’s changing abilities, goals, attitudes, and interests.
  • Use different kinds of information sources, including school grades, and your own and others’ observations of your child’s interests, concerns, persistence, and motivation.
  • By appreciating individual developmental differences, you increase your child’s engagement in learning and intrinsic motivation, which leads to better learning outcomes, greater self-efficacy, and stronger likelihood of happy productivity across her life span.

Read more

Seeing Beyond the Distraction of IQ

rsz a_boy_a_girl_and_a_book

In our work with families and schools, we’ve noticed that people sometimes confuse encouraging the development of children’s real-world intelligence—that is, raising smarter kids—and raising their IQs. It’s a distinction worth noting. Here’s why.

Intelligence is so much more than a score on a test. Secrets for raising smarter kids include keeping the emphasis on thinking, learning, challenging, creating, finding balance, playing, working hard, collaborating, persevering, and becoming wise. Boosting a child’s real-world intelligence may boost his intelligence test score, but not necessarily. And vice versa. Read more

thinking

How Comforting Kids When They Fail Can Rob Them of Motivation to Learn, by Luc Kumps

thinking

Teachers’ attitudes can have a powerful effect on kids’ motivation. Comforting students when they don’t do well can rob them of their motivation to learn, reduce their likelihood of taking on challenging courses, and lock them into low achievement.

If you believe talent is something a person is born with, or not, you’re more likely than others to give up when faced with difficulties. You’ll think that setbacks indicate the limits of your ability. People who think this way—sometimes called having a ‘fixed mindset’– avoid investing a lot of effort in a task, since effort exposes their lack of natural ability. Read more