Today I’ll share the most critical parenting guidance and insights I’m reading/thinking about right now.
These are the most important tips I’ve come across for raising kids who are resilient, hard working, independent, and intelligent.
These traits are the most influential to your kids’ success.
Now, like every parent, I’m figuring things out.
That’s why I’ve written a lot about parenting guidance recently.
It helps me clarify my own parenting philosophy.
Because, as a new parent, I now see in very real terms that “setting your kid on the right path” is the product of countless decisions.
Dozens per day, hundreds per week, thousands per year.
The clock starts the moment your baby is born.
There’s much research validation that the most formative years for child development are 0 to 5.
Your kid’s brain is a sponge, rapidly absorbing and expanding new skills, knowledge, info.
Now is the time to make good parenting choices to give your kid the best chance of maximizing their potential.
Especially if your kid (like mine) is very young.
There are no do-overs if you mess up.
So you should learn good (at least not bad) mindsets and strategies early.
This will yield better decisions over and over again as you raise your kid.
Ready to get to it? Let’s dive in.
Reading is the foundation
Years ago I read about a profound study of the factors that influence student success.
The key point: the most impactful thing you can do to nurture your kid’s I.Q. and academic success is to simply talk to them.
Moreover, talk to them using encouragements and praise/approval words.
Something about hearing words, not from the TV but from a human, rapidly stimulates language development and I.Q.
And one of the best ways to make sure lots of words are spoken to your kid is simply to read to them.
Unlike many other things, reading to your kid is one of the few things you do as a parent that seems to matter significantly.
I mean, reading from paper books.
Turn off the iPad.
Put away the phone.
Turn off the TV/radio.
Real paper books, the old fashioned way.
If your child is young, picture books help them connect words to images to concepts.
There is something fundamentally “tactile” about this that is critical to their language/brain development.
I think it’s because they hear your words as you point at the word/picture.
They hear you repeat words.
They mouth the same words.
They hear your corrections when they say it incorrectly.
They lock eyes with you as you act out different voices.
All this helps them accelerate absorption of sound and meaning.
They are synthesizing all these visual and aural cues.
In other words, there is tremendous context when they hear you speak/read that they cannot get by looking at a screen or listening to a device.
My wife and I are raising our kid to be multilingual.
So we speak more than one language at home.
We buy both Mandarin and English books and we talk to her in both languages (more Mandarin for now because it’s harder and she’ll get plenty of English later).
We are even considering to hire an au pair from another country to expand her language skills further.
I suspect the effort needed to shape your kid’s language development must be replicated/increased for multilingual learners.
Even if it’s not exactly double for two languages or triple for three, it’s important to factor that extra “load” in when thinking about how to expose your kid to language early and often.
Interacting with your kids like they’re adults
Reading is the foundation, but it’s not the only thing.
Esther Wojcicki wrote in an influential Time article, the most important thing is to “give our kids the values and skills to succeed as adults.”
Problem solving skills.
These are the skills needed to succeed. They are critical (yet easily neglected for toddlers) and it’s important to set good habits early.
I should add that Esther Wojcicki’s three daughters went on to become the CEO of YouTube, CEO of 23andMe, and professor of medicine/pediatrics at UCSF
So I’d say she has some insight into tips for raising successful kids.
To achieve this, she believes parents should treat their kids like adults from very early on.
“I spoke to my daughters as if they were adults from day one. Most mothers naturally turn to baby talk — a higher-pitched voice, simpler words. Not me. I trusted them and they trusted me. I never put them in danger but I also never stood in the way of them experiencing life or taking calculated risks.
“I respected their individuality from the beginning. My theory was that the most important years were zero to five and I was going to teach them as much as I could early on. What I wanted more than anything was to make them first into independent children and then into empowered, independent adults. I figured that if they could think on their own and make sound decisions, they could face any challenges that came their way.”
There are five things she believes parents must teach their kids to become capable, successful adults.
I think her framework is spot on.
(But in my own thinking I would add a sixth thing; more on that later.)
1. Trust. This is the most important: trusting your kid from as early as they can handle to make their own good decisions.
There are caveats of course.
Trust doesn’t mean letting them do stupid things where they could die or get arrested.
It does mean giving them space to make their own decisions.
Even if they’re not the same ones you’d make.
And having confidence that things will turn out fine.
That kind of trust arises from trusting your OWN decisions as a parent.
And then role modeling that confidence – and responsibility for owning your decisions – to your kid.
Because they start out with no visceral knowledge of decisions/consequences, being allowed to make her own decisions and having to deal with the consequences will teach your kid more effectively than you could do by trying to explain things abstractly to them.
Of course, this assumes you are coaching them along the way, too (but not directing).
Trusting your kid in this way empowers them to develop independence.
2. Respect. Wojcicki says the most important type of respect we can show our children is toward their autonomy and individuality.
Give them autonomy to show you respect their individuality.
Of course, you must protect them from obvious danger (you’re the parent after all).
Autonomy doesn’t mean freedom to walk into traffic, drive drunk, or do drugs.
It means nurturing your kid’s interests and talents.
Giving them space to discover interests/talents by giving them opportunities to try lots of things.
Supporting them as they develop and pursue their own productive goals.
Importantly, it also means not telling them what to be, what profession to pursue, or what their life should look like.
Coaching, yes. Dictating, no.
3. Independence. Independence arises directly from trust and respect.
That is because when a child feels trusted and respected, they will develop confidence, a feeling of self-control, and a sense of responsibility, and this will happen early in life.
A child who develops these early in life will be better equipped to face the challenges of adulthood.
And better prepared to think creatively and originally.
Why is this true?
Because they will have more confidence to handle the inevitable setbacks and failures that accompany life challenges and original thinking.
They won’t internalize setbacks personally.
Or see failure as a reflection of their identity.
With heightened confidence and self-control, things won’t “get to them” as easily.
To nurture this, one thing Wojcicki advises is to coach your kid not to get hung up on perfection.
Otherwise, when things falter, as they inevitably will from time to time, they’ll beat themselves up and overthink it.
This prevents them from learning how to get better and do it differently next time.
She credits that “anti-perfectionism” philosophy for giving her daughters confidence to excel in male-dominated industries like science and tech.
“They all try to do their best, but they forgive themselves,” she says. “They don’t hold themselves to blame.”
By contrast: “A perfectionist does not forgive themselves for doing something that isn’t perfect.
This reminds me of something I often heard when I worked at LinkedIn.
The CEO often ended meetings celebrating a win or discussing a failure by saying: “next play.”
He got this from Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.
It basically means: take a moment to reflect on a success or failure, but don’t dwell on it, then move right on.
It means not getting too caught up in successes or bogged down by failures that you lose momentum.
Take a moment to fist pump or reflect on a loss, think about what you would do or not do differently next time. But don’t linger.
Move on to the next play. There will always be one.
This is the same concept as Wojcicki’s anti-perfectionism.
Making progress is more important than getting everything right.
Ultimately, teaching independence (with proper coaching in tandem) is about giving your kid real choices and teaching them to face the results even when they’re bad.
Don’t solve things for them, Wojcicki says. “The more you do for your kids, the less they do for themselves.”
By learning to make and own their decisions, your kid is learning about responsible behavior, self-control, and delayed gratification.
Truly independent kids are capable of coping with adversity and setbacks – an unavoidable part of life – yet still feel in control, and therefore able to do something about it, even when things feel chaotic.
4. Collaboration. This is about cultivating a sense of teamwork.
Teaching your kid to work together as a family, or as part of their class, or as a team member at work.
For parents, this means encouraging your kid to contribute to important family discussions, decisions, even their own discipline.
In past generations, parenting was about parents setting rules and children obediently following them.
That no longer works because the world no longer operates by traditional rules.
There are largely no guarantees of any kind in life anymore. Educationally, professionally, or otherwise.
The key skills for success today are: critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills.
Modern parenting must reflect that.
Rather than tell our kids what to do, we should ask for their ideas and try to meaningfully incorporate them to foster a sense of “working together to find solutions.”
Discussing and making decisions together empowers them to view themselves as joint collaborative problem solvers working with team members toward a common goal.
This teaches important skills like seeking and incorporating feedback, getting buy in from others, and consensus building.
These are crucial skills that are massively transferrable.
5. Kindness. The most important emotional temperament your kid will develop is their sense of kindness, empathy, and compassion.
Others may not remember things you did, as Maya Angelou famously wrote, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.
Yet parents are often not good role models of kindness and compassion.
That is because we treat those closest to us, namely our family, without (ironically) the same kindness and consideration we give to strangers.
We may love our kids (and for that matter, our spouse, siblings, parents, etc), but it’s easy to forget basic kindness toward them because they’re already familiar.
We’re not afraid they’ll judge us in a permanent way or abandon us if we’re less than kind to them.
For this reason, parents don’t always role model kindness well.
In Wojcicki’s definition, kindness involves gratitude and forgiveness, service toward others, and an awareness of the world outside yourself.
Teaching your kid these values starts with making a conscious effort to role model them to the loved ones who are closest to you.
What I would add to Wojcicki’s list is: courage.
True courage is rare. There’s certainly a dearth amongst our elected leaders today!
But it’s essential to leadership.
Learning how to be courageous isn’t easy, but like kindness the most effective way to teach your kid is by role modeling it.
The goal is to show her how to speak her mind, say what she believes is right, stand up to wrong, and be brave even when she is scared, uncertain, or beaten down.
The ability to be brave in the face of adversity is a critical aspect of leadership.
People crave following that kind of example, and your kid who looks up to you will follow your example if you show it to them.
A special note for girls
I have a daughter, so I’m acutely aware girls have a different lived experience than boys in some profound ways.
The most obvious is that body image and body shaming are far more severe for girls than for boys.
Society is so body image driven in its advertising and messaging and expectations for girls that a girl’s real life opportunities can be materially impacted for no other reason than her looks.
I am not saying boys never deal with body image challenges/expectations.
But I am saying girls cannot escape it.
So they have to learn how to address it head on, and you as a parent are their most important coach for this.
A mother to three daughters, one thing Esther Wojcicki did was to not emphasize beauty when raising them.
By her own account, she neither stressed the importance of being pretty, nor spouted platitudes about self-acceptance.
Instead, she encouraged her girls to just stop thinking about how they look.
“You get dressed in a certain way that you look okay, you don’t focus on it, you don’t overeat or anything and you get on with what you’re doing in life,” she says.
“Average looks are just fine. If you’re ugly, I think it does impact you. But anybody who’s average—just get with the picture.”
As a dad, I now quietly worry about how I should coach and comfort my daughter when her self-confidence will likely take a hit due to body image issues.
Due to boys and even (or perhaps especially) other girls making comments.
Due to things she sees in magazines or online.
All the studies suggest this weakening of confidence starts around 6th or 7th grade.
But my instinct aligns with Wojcicki’s.
I believe I’ll coach her that, while being truly ugly (while not a person’s fault) will unfortunately materially harm that person’s life opportunities, she’s lucky that’s not her situation.
She had the good fortune of looking at least normal, and – to my eyes, of course – beautiful.
That is all she needs to know.
She should wear what she needs to to look presentable/professional, but don’t dwell on appearances.
It does not help you to be a pretty young thing tilting your head in a Prada outfit.
Rely on your intellectual strengths, your kindness and compassion, to make a difference in the world, to build strong friendships and relationships.
That is what will bring long-term happiness and fulfillment.
Now I’d like to hear from you
To sum up, I think reading is the foundation for a child’s intellectual development.
And Wojcicki’s framework (plus the courage attribute) strongly resonates with how I’ve been thinking about my own parenting philosophy.
The early years are the most crucial and formative.
And with your coaching and role modeling, founded in trust and respect, your child will flourish the way they were meant to.
Does my framework resonate with you? If not, why?
Is there something you would add/remove to it?
Or maybe you have a question about one of the ideas you read.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.
Related: Check out my post on how to motivate your kid to win the national spelling bee (and excel in life).