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Ten Steps toward Parenting for Happy Productivity Forget the résumé: Focus on self-actualization and legacy virtues instead

girl at windowAccomplishment, achievement, and recognition are good goals for our children, but being loving and happily productive on one’s own terms are better. For my children and grandchildren, what delights me more than any prizes the world might offer is a confident integrity; a radiant inner light; a life lived with love, kindness, courage, happy productivity, and appreciation.

David Brooks recently wrote a column in the New York Times called ‘A Moral Bucket List.’ In it, he distinguished between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues: ‘The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?’

Brooks goes on to write that although most of us see the eulogy virtues as more important than the résumé virtues, it is the latter—the attributes that bring wealth, status, recognition, and success in worldly terms—that we put the heaviest focus on through our culture and education. Kids are given more support for developing the skills and strategies they need for getting into top universities and making lots of money than for establishing the character strengths that lead to a life of happy productivity, love, and fulfilment, the kind of life that creates a meaningful legacy.

What can parents do who want their children to radiate the inner light that’s a symptom of self-actualization and the legacy virtues?

  1. Slow down enough to be loving and attuned. Too often, parents’ patience gets lost in the flurry of their busy lives, but loving attunement is the most powerful tool they have for supporting happy productivity across the life span. As frequently as you can through the day, make time to listen to your children, with love.
  2. Ensure ample time for free unstructured play. Free play—invented and managed by kids, both solo and with other kids—enables children to nourish their curiosity, self-awareness, and imagination. It also strengthens their self-regulation, autonomy, decision-making, conflict resolution, and friendship skills.
  3. Spend time outdoors. A daily dose of outdoor time—preferably in natural settings—reduces stress, increases optimism, improves health, stimulates the senses, frees the spirit, and enhances creativity. By improving attention and focus, it also increases academic and other kinds of achievement.
  4. Help kids find their passions. Provide opportunities for exploration and discovery in the arts, the sciences, architecture, gardening, and more, as widely as possible. Support your children in developing their curiosities into passions.
  5. Welcome daydreaming, do-nothing times, and boredom. 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.
  6. Teach your kids to breathe. Kids who learn mindful breathing techniques are better able to manage their stress, sleep soundly, and focus their attention on cognitive, emotional, and physical activities. They can concentrate better on tests and exams, and cope better with challenging situations.
  7. Model a growth mindset. Reinforce your children’s awareness that abilities develop step by step, with hard work, persistence, and patience. Holding a growth mindset—including realizing that intelligence and creativity develop incrementally, and welcoming setbacks as learning opportunities—leads to higher measures of well-being in every area of life.
  8. Limit screen time. Yes, there is a time and place for electronic devices, but most kids are spending way too much time on them. By limiting screen time, you’ll free up time for outdoor exploration, unstructured play, daydreaming, and self-discovery.
  9. Restrict homework and other structured activities. Yes, it’s important to support kids’ interests and abilities, but somewhat counter-intuitively, play and downtime are more important for happy productivity across the life span than more hours of homework, extracurricular lessons, organized sports, practice, and other good things.
  10. Say thank you. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It’s the opposite of entitlement, and people who actively appreciate what’s good in their lives experience higher levels of well-being, happiness, energy, optimism, empathy, and popularity.

In the end, parenting for self-actualization is probably all about balance. The first step—loving attunement—is the most important, and should come before everything else. After that, you can start with any one of the remaining nine steps, take it where it goes, and then try another. The ultimate goal is to integrate all of them into your children’s lives, in balance.

For more on these ideas:

‘The Moral Bucket List,’ by David Brooks 

‘Optimal Development across the Life Span,’ Dona Matthews’ blog in The Creativity Post http://www.creativitypost.com/authors/list/162/dmatthews

 ’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 

Scott Barry Kaufman interviewed me recently for a podcast in his series for Scientific American called ‘Beautiful Minds,’ where he explores intelligence, creativity, and the mind. We talked in some detail about the science of raising happily productive kids

In Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, Joanne Foster and I consider most of these ideas in more detail: www.beyondintelligence.net

 

Photo by Aikawa Ke, Creative Commons, Flickr

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Outdoor Play: 20 Ways it Contributes to Raising Smarter Kids

rsz_1rsz_kids_outside_runningUnstructured playtime is an essential part of developing many dimensions of intelligence and creativity. And if that playtime happens outdoors—preferably in a natural setting, even if it’s a small urban park—that’s even better. Outdoor playtime opens up a world of possibilities for kids that can expand their imagination, stimulate all their senses, and free their spirits in ways that structured indoor activities and screentime can never do. Read more

Why are some poor kids resilient? Parenting makes the difference

There’s fascinating new research showing us something about where ‘grit’ comes from. ‘Why do some children who grow up in poverty do well, while others struggle?’ Alix Spiegel asks in this article. She answers the question with some fascinating new research showing how the quality of an infant’s attachment to her mother makes an enormous difference to sensitive kids, and that this difference grows over time.

Some infants are a lot more sensitive to the environment than others. These sensitive babies are the kids at highest risk of behavioural problems as they get older. Sensitive babies in this research who showed an insecure attachment to their mothers in infancy (i.e., not soothed by the mother’s presence, not happy to see mother after a separation) are the ones who grew into troubled children with the most severe behavioural problems.

Fascinatingly, though, the sensitive babies who showed secure attachments to their mothers in infancy were the ones who grew into the best kids, with the lowest number of problem behaviours.

(The children with low set points [an indicator of less sensitivity to the environment] were not as good as the best or as bad as the worst, no matter their parenting.)

And perhaps most interestingly, Spiegel writes that ‘The behavior of the children with high set points and secure attachments to their mothers compared favorably with the behavior of children whose environments were often much easier.’ The kids who were growing up in high-risk poverty who were sensitive to the environment (‘high set points’) and who experienced secure attachment to their mothers, actually did better than kids growing up with a lot more advantages.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/02/25/172880140/to-spot-kids-who-will-overcome-poverty-look-at-babies

Thank you to Ben Peterson at Newsana–http://www.newsana.com/— for bringing this to my attention!

For those interested in following this farther and deeper, you can go to the source:

Poverty, Problem Behavior, and Promise: Differential Susceptibility Among Infants Reared in Poverty, by Elisabeth Conradt, Jeffrey Measelle, and Jennifer C. Ablow  http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/01/29/0956797612457381

You might also be interested in Dan Keating’s work– http://books.google.com/books/about/Nature_and_Nurture_in_Early_Child_Develo.html?id=0hdB63OT_RYC

or Stephen Suomi’s fascinating studies with cross-fostering monkeys, discussed by Dan Keating in The Nature and Nurture of Early Child Development, and elsewhere–

e.g., http://books.google.com/books?id=R8-HitN5Jp0C&pg=PA254&dq=stephen+suomi&hl=en&sa=X&ei=rCAuUcbnFIba9ASqvYDYDw&ved=0CEwQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=stephen%20suomi&f=false

Encouraging a Child’s Creativity

Real creativity starts with passion, with a keen interest in learning something, and then taking it farther. So the starting place for parents who want to encourage creativity in a child is to expose her to as many different kinds of experience as possible—scientific, musical, visual, physical, etc., —so she has enough knowledge to figure out what really interests her.

From there, it’s about giving her what she needs to take her interests as far as she can. If it’s painting, see if she’d like art classes, and try to make that happen. Get an easel if that’s helpful, and enough paints or crayons or pencils, and paper so she can explore and develop her skills. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You and your child can exercise your creativity in solving the problem of getting the right kinds of supplies. What you need to do is provide as much support and encouragement as you can.

Give her the opportunities, challenges, and support she needs to work hard at what interests her, and discover if she wants to take it farther. Your belief in her ability to go forward is what’s important in the early stages. Do what you can to help her learn as much as she can possibly learn about her area of interest. The more a person knows, the more they have with which to be creative.

As your child gets farther along in her mastery, she’ll discover conflicts and ambiguities, the way that ‘truths’ appear to contradict other ‘truths’. It’s good to start by understanding the rules in the domain—e.g., musical scales, or grammatical standards—but then it’s good to break those rules. This is confusing and difficult until she’s learned to tolerate ambiguity, and can let it be okay that apparently opposing ideas are both valid.

Although knowledge is essential to creativity, it is also a double-edged sword—too much knowledge can limit creativity. So help your child keep growing, keep moving forward in her learning, thinking, exploring, and developing. That means generating lots of ideas, reframing problems as they’re encountered, and it also means learning to critically analyze her ideas. Nobody has good ideas all the time. Some are worth pursuing. Some aren’t. Help her learn to think about her ideas, and ask herself and others if they’re worth developing before she proceeds.

Once she’s far enough along to have a reasonable level of proficiency, help her learn to share her creative work with others. Communicating her work with others—whether it’s dance, writing, or math problem-solving—allows her to take it to the next stage, and opens up further possibilities for growth and learning. When others start reacting to what she produces—her ideas, her songs, her inventions—she’ll learn more about where it might need more work, and where she wants to invest more effort.

Every innovator encounters opposition, so as she moves farther along in her creativity, your child also needs to learn how to believe in her ideas, take sensible risks, surmount obstacles, and stay strong in the face of opposition.

The very best thing you can do to encourage your child’s creativity is to apply all these recommendations to yourself. Find your passion, and pursue it as far as you can. Learn more about it, develop skills and expertise, decide what rules you want to break, and share your ideas and products with others. Challenge yourself to keep growing. Find ways to believe in yourself, to surmount the inevitable obstacles, to look for ways to sell your ideas. By engaging in creative activity yourself, you’ll be a great role model for your child. She’ll see how good it feels to engage in creativity.

If you’re a parent or a teacher, you’ve got chances every day to encourage the creativity of the children in your life. There’s no more exciting or important work you can do!

For more on these ideas, go to www.raisingsmarterkids.net

Sources: book in progress with Joanne Foster on raising smarter kids; Dan Keating’s work on defining creativity, specifically his article entitled ‘The Four Faces of Creativity’;  Bob Sternberg’s work on deciding for creativity, especially his article called ‘Identifying and Developing Creative Giftedness.’

The Intelligence Edge

December 3, 2011

We come back to a theme we’re encountering a lot these days: parents – stressed by the demands and insecurities they’re experiencing in their own lives— wonder how they can ensure their children will have the intelligence edge they’ll need in this fast-paced and rapidly-changing world. What can parents do to support their children’s ability to cope successfully with—and even welcome— the challenges they will inevitably encounter?

So much is changing so rapidly in the world right now, and in individual people’s lives. Very few of us feel as confident about the future as we once did, and when so little seems stable and predictable, it is easy to become overwhelmed by worries. Parents I talk to are concerned about the stresses in their own lives, and have questions like these about raising their children:

How can I make sure my children aren’t damaged by the sex and violence that surrounds them–in advertising, computer games, music, cartoons, television, and more?

Is it okay if my child has no interest in reading?

I’m feeling uncertain about my own job. How can I possibly prepare my child to earn a living one day?

The bottom line for these and many other questions concerns how parents can best prepare their children to thrive in a fast-paced and rapidly-changing world.

The answer to most of these questions is surprisingly simple, although not always easy to implement. The single best way to give children an intelligence edge—a well-developed ability to cope successfully with and even welcome the challenges they will inevitably encounter –is to spend time with them.

Listen patiently and respectfully to their concerns. Discuss your ideas and theirs, and do some problem-solving together. Convey a confidence in their ability to figure things out—with your help, as needed, and only in those areas where they have some reasonable age-appropriate control over the situation. Be present to their fears, their hopes, their worries. Help them see that managing change and meeting challenges can feel good.

There is more than this to being a good parent, of course, including supporting your children in developing habits of mind like perseverance, hard work, critical thinking, creativity, and flexibility; and in having character traits like honesty, kindness, loyalty, and integrity. Children need lots more than just being listened to — love, for example, and guidance, patience, social interaction, physical play, sensory stimulation, and intellectual challenge.

Joanne Foster and I discuss all these important things at length in Raising Smarter Kids, but if given the time and opportunity to make only one suggestion to a worried parent, it is almost always about the intelligence edge their children will have if they have someone with whom to communicate openly—someone who they can trust in order to share their perspectives and ideas. And, that is truer today than ever.

When the world is rushing along madly, children need to feel a sense of sanctuary, attention, and respect at home.