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5 Basic Skills We’re Forgetting to Teach Our Children

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It’s impossible to know just how much the world will change in the next 10 to 20 years, and — as history consistently shows us — parents often make well-intentioned mistakes that are hard to see coming. (My parents, for example, raised me in the era of self-esteem campaigns and child-centered parenting — when words like HAPPY and CONFIDENT were blanket goals for the entire generation of Millennial kids. We all know how that worked out.)

But thanks to this Age of Information, we’re able to deepen the discussion about what, exactly, we should be teaching modern-day kids in order for them to become well-adjusted adults. How can we do better? Beyond self-esteem and academic success, here are 5 skills that might help our children lead healthier, more satisfying lives:

1. Grit

“Grit” has become a major buzzword for educating and raising kids, which can be summed up as “passion and persistence for very long-term goals.” This is the definition given by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth in her eye-opening TED Talk, “The Key to Success? Grit.” She also explains that after years of studying people in all sorts of settings, at all ages, grit was the one clear characteristic for success — more than IQ, social intelligence, attractiveness, physical health, or even talent.

But how do you teach grit? How do you build a strong work ethic, or instill non-cognitive, character-based skills like perseverance, tenacity, and self-discipline? While we don’t have a clear curriculum, there’s one strategy that stands out: “growth mindset.” Developed by Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University, “growth mindset” is the idea that we have control over our ability to learn, and we can bounce back from failure and achieve success by working hard.

We should teach kids how their brains respond to challenges, and that their ability to learn/be good at something isn’t predetermined; that failure is temporary and necessary. We should praise them for their effort, not their natural intelligence or anything out of their control. More than anything, if we want our kids to be grittier, we have to be gritty ourselves by trying new things, embracing failure with a positive attitude, modeling resilience, and sharing how we’ve failed and overcame those failures.

2. Adaptability

The ability to adapt to different situations just might be a major key in fostering a happy life, according to a recent article in The Huffington Post. Considering our kids will eventually face obstacles, hurdles, and unexpected life twists, adaptability will help in their relationships, careers, and everyday lives.

According to Guy Winch, Ph.D. and author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries, some kids are naturally more adaptable than others. But adaptability is something we can learn, and we can help our kids by teaching them to be aware of their natural inclinations and the “whys” behind their actions, so they can eventually analyze how to adapt to their current situation. Additionally, we can help our kids learn to be more adaptable by emphasizing the positive and seeking joy, even when times are tough.

3. Curiosity

Children are born with an innate curiosity, but as they get older, that curiosity changes and can sometimes become muffled. It can also be hindered by protective, well-meaning parents who want kids to stay out of trees, or the woods, or big puddles.

According to Ian Leslie, author of Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, parents need to deliberately foster that curiosity throughout childhood. Leslie sat down with HuffPost Live to explain the importance of nurturing curiosity in children and within ourselves, even citing a link between the exploratory nature of toddlers and their academic success later in life. Apparently the more a toddler is off crawling and climbing, the better they do in school.

His biggest tip is for parents to talk to their kids. Take the time to answer their questions and ask them questions. No matter how busy or stressed we are, answer their incessant questions of “why.” Let them explore, let them get muddy, and more than anything … share a sense of curiosity and wonder with your kids.

4. Self-awareness

If we’re going to talk about raising well-adjusted humans, we have to start with fostering self-awareness in our kids. Raising children to be mindful of their emotions and mind patterns, and why they’re feeling/behaving/thinking a certain way. To take responsibility for what’s happening in their bodies. To not only know themselves, but love themselves.

Of course that requires parents to view their children from a place of mindful awareness, without judgment or preconceived expectations. (That’s easier said than done.) But in adding more mindfulness to our own lives, we can encourage our kids to practice doing that same.

5. Meaning

We want our kids to be happy, but research (and life) shows that expecting our children to live in a consistent state of happiness is both unrealistic and short-sighted. A recent article in The Atlantic, There’s More to Life Than Being Happy, explores the difference in pursing happiness vs. pursuing “meaning.” Happiness can be fleeting; meaning is enduring. Happiness is about feeling good; meaning is about feeling purpose. Happiness is free of stress and worry and pain; meaning is finding lessons in the stress and worry and pain. Research has shown that having meaning improves your overall health (both mental and physical), enhances resiliency and self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. In addition, those who single-mindedly pursue happiness often tend to be less happy as a result, according to recent research.

We can help our children live with meaning by emphasizing a connection to something larger than the self. Through generosity, charity, and making sacrifices for a greater good — and understanding that the things that add meaning to our lives aren’t necessarily the things that make us happy.

Just as everything else on this list, embracing these skills in our own lives is the best way to ensure our kids absorb and learn them.

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