6 Ways to Adjust Your Parenting Habits to Generate Kid Success

It’s the end of the first semester, or halfway through the year if your kids are younger. It’s the perfect time to make adjustments to your routines and habits to help improve academic performance as your kids finish the school year.

I firmly believe that habits are the key to any real success. People underestimate their ability to form their own habits and create a life that supports their success formula and the goals they set for themselves. Parents underestimate how much their own habits influence the success of their kids. I feel so strongly, I’ve written about it several times. Here and here are two of the best pieces I’ve written. Here is a list of six habits that you can create for yourself that will rub off on your children. If you include your kids, they will develop the same habits along with you.

1. Be interested – I come from less busy times. We actually ate dinner together several nights a week in my house as I was growing up. There is no doubt that dinner time is a great time to have conversations about your day. Sometimes it is really hard to get your kids to engage, particularly if they are high school age. It’s worth the investment. Genuine interest in the academic activities your kids are involved with will pay off in a variety of ways. If you want to build a relationship that shows your kids that you are interested in what they are doing, this is a time that requires you to be non-judgmental. I don’t know what clued my parents into my creative side, but my parents paid for me to take summer classes at the Studio Arena Theatre School, to take private art lessons with a local painter, and to take guitar lessons. In the mid-1970’s, the chances of making a living at any of those things were very low. They never worried about that, and that nurturing allowed for me to grow those interests (and all three of them are still a part of my life today.) Those activities, while they may not provide a path to a steady and lucrative career, they do help kids grow as creativity has nice benefits and it is still a place for kids to learn passion, discipline, and to take pride in their work.

So, even if the busy family life gets in the way of a family dinner, there are plenty of times daily to take interest in what your kids are doing, what they are studying, what their best friends are up to. There is the car rides between soccer practice and music lessons. There is always a few minutes before bed time, or over a bowl of Cheerios in the morning. If those times are difficult, make a date to go out to dinner, to take a walk, to have an ice cream cone, whatever. Being non-judgmentally interested in your kids’ lives creates a connection point that will help drive success, as our kids love to impress us with new information learned or by sharing their accomplishments.

2. Be positive – Study after study after study proves the value of positive thinking. It was Henry Ford who said “If you think you can do a thing or you think you can’t do a thing, you’re right”. This is one of the greatest habits you can give your kids is the power of positive thinking. Positive thinkers can see themselves being successful and can use that power to drive themselves to success. Train your kids to default to the positive first. Exercise gratitude for the things that you have and look on the bright side when things go wrong. My grandmother and my mother both used to say “if you don’t have something positive to say, don’t say anything at all.” Great advice.

My favorite TED Talk is by Shawn Achor and he gives some great tips at the end about how to achieve a positive lifestyle.

3. Work together – One of the best things that you can do to help your child be successful is to lead by example. Throughout the child rearing years, you can be certain that your kids want to listen to you exactly never. I know how frustrating it is. I not only have my own son, but, as a teacher, I have lots of other people’s kids who don’t want to listen to me. Here is a simple tip. If you want your kids to sit down and work, sit down and work with them, starting when they are younger. So many jobs require us to take work home. Sit down at the same time as your kids and do your work. If you don’t have a job where you take work home, sit down and pay the bills or balance the checkbook (do people still have checkbooks?) Read the newspaper, read a book, write thank you notes. If you are sitting there doing the same things that they are learning in school; reading, writing, math, they will see the value from the person they learn the most from. This is a great habit to start when your kids are young. Keep it up, however, when they get older. Leading by example is the best way to drive lessons home.

4. Set rules – There are so many distractions in the course of our days. Some are self-induced and some just pop up. While you can never eliminate them all, you can certainly create a set of rules that limits the ones that you can control. Probably the biggest distraction of modern times is technology. Set rules around technology use when it is study time. Phones should be silenced and in another room. Internet access should be limited to what is needed for what the academic tasks are. There shouldn’t be TV or music going on. Music is probably OK, so long as it doesn’t have lyrics. Instrumental stuff has less of a tendency to split the processing power of our brain. Your rules can include breaks for technology, but really only if it is a long study session. When you are interrupted by social media or texting, it takes approximately 23 minutes for your brain to get back in the groove. Isn’t it better to just finish the project and then check your social media? Make the rule that study time is a no tech time.

dadkidhighfive5. Set goals – If you don’t know where you are going, it is hard to get there. Teaching your kids to set goals to work towards is an essential habit. Successful people set goals. They can be goals for the day, for the week, for the marking period, or for the school year. They can be goals related to the teams they play on or related to their music lessons. The best way to teach your kids to set goals is to set goals as a family, AND to include the kids in your goal setting. For the family goals, the kids are a part of the family (which is also an important attitude to promote, if you want them to remain engaged as you get older) so, they should have a say in the family goals. It is essential to set or review goals at the beginning of the school year, at the semester break, at the beginning of the summer (learning activities shouldn’t stop just because school is out of session) and at the beginning of big projects like sports seasons, rehearsals starting for a play or even at the onset of a big project like a research paper or presentation. Goals are the key to keeping things moving in a positive direction and not ending up having to cram at the end.

6. Reward yourselves – I know I respond to rewards. I set up a goal to work towards and a prize to earn when I get there. You can do the same thing with your kids. Finish writing the first draft of the paper and we’ll go get ice cream. Or we’ll all go see a movie after we finish working in the yard. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming, but it could be dinner at a favorite restaurant for acing a hard test or getting a good grade on a big project. I never wanted to try and buy my son’s accomplishments. I wanted him to take pride in his work for the sake of taking pride. (I wasn’t always successful in this idea.) I did, however, want to motivate him to get to the end of a project, and I did want to celebrate his achievements. Some ideas worked better than others. Some didn’t work at all. Rewards, however, can work on goals of any scale.

Whether you want to believe it or not, you are one of the largest indicators of your children’s success. Even if it seems like they are not listening, your actions will teach them the skills they need to be successful. Habits and skills are both learned behaviors, not genetically endowed. Every parent can teach them, every kid can learn them.

When I wrote “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t” I focused on essential life skills that parents and teachers could instill in our kids. Although the title refers to high school, there is no reason you cannot begin to teach your kids these skills at an early age.

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The Business of Parenting

I’m not exactly sure what brought me to this conclusion. I have been thinking a lot about entrepreneurism lately, as my son gets closer to graduating from college and has dreams of starting his own business. (I am chalking that up as a parenting success, by the way.) So, in the strange place that is my mind, I realized that starting your own business and parenting have A LOT in common.

1. No instruction manual – Seriously, there are a lot of good books out there on both subjects, parenting and running a business, but there is absolutely no step by step instruction poster (I like those better than the books) on how to parent a child, particularly your first child, or how to run a start-up. Why is that? Well, every single time is different. Different children need different things. Mine were both happy kids that slept through the night relatively soon. Other friends and family have babies that are colicky or have other problems that keep them up all night. Each and every business start-up is different too. Different people, different product or industry, different business climate, different regulations. So, authors can give you some suggestions, but not a definitive “how-to”. A pity, that is.

workingtogether2. Teamwork – As the the head of a business, one of the things you want to do is create a culture of teamwork. “The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts” and all that. Parenting a family is exactly the same. Only through teamwork between the parents will you create successful kids, and if you do it right, you create great teamwork in your family, everyone working towards shared goals and reaping shared rewards. There are only the three of us, but we make a pretty good team, whether it is getting ready for a family party or working on our events planning and management business. We generally work well together, and are loyal to each other.

3. 24/7 attention – If you would have told me that I would always have my kids on my mind before I had them, I am not sure I would have believed you. Raising a kid is all consuming. When they are young you worry about thumps in the night coming from their bedroom. When they are older you worry about whether they will get home safely, graduate from college, get a job, find someone to love, and a whole host of other things. A business is the same. You are the one at whose feet it all rests. Find the customers, do the work, send out the invoices. If you have a staff, you worry about making the money to keep them employed and the lights on.

4. Negotiation – Holy crap, is parenting a negotiation. I swore before I had kids I would never say the words “because I said so”….um…yeah…not so much. Rebecca probably hadn’t even been talking for a year before I had to pull that one out of the bag. Every single thing is a negotiation. This is a true teachable moment. I am a huge fan of Dr. Stephen Covey’s 4th habit in the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Think Win/win. Teach your kids that from early on, it’ll be a benefit for the whole of their lives. Negotiation is everything. Whether you are parent or business owner, everything starts with negotiation. Incidentally, if you haven’t read “7 Habits”, it isn’t just about being successful in business. It is the greatest self improvement book of all times, I think.

5. It gets easier – I think both parenting and running a business get easier with experience. As we learn from our mistakes and try new things. I certainly wasn’t a perfect parent. There are lots of things I would like a do-over on. I am not the perfect business owner. Every single day I find something else I need to learn. But as I have done things, I learn, and I become more confident in my decisions, both in parenting and as a small business owner. You want evidence of things getting easier? Ask the baby of the family and the oldest  about their experiences. Start with curfew. That’ll generally havea some spirited reactions.

6. You raise your kids to take over for you – My wife and I worked very hard to raise a child who is compassionate, and committed, and community minded. Someone who is a go-to person and who will carry forward some beautiful family traditions. It was important to me that my son be a person who understands the importance of doing his part to make the world a better place. I think I have succeeded in that. In your business, if you are doing it right, you nurture your staff to build the trust that allows them to take things off your plate. I don’t want to be working as hard when I am older as I am not. I want to build a nice business that will allow.

7. Finances – Anyone who is starting a family or is starting a business knows that financially speaking, both are freaking scary. There is never a good time for either. There is never enough money for either. Both take a leap of faith in yourself that you can make it work. My first foray into business ended horribly. It left me uncertain and in debt. It took me a long time before I was confident enough to do it again. My first foray in kids was equally as scary, equally as expensive, and in both cases, we made it work. In addition to having the start-up you need, teaching your kids and your employees about the finances of it all is an excellent way to help make sure your family and your business run well.

Pete-and-Adam-golf8. Rewards – In both cases, raising successful kids and running a successful business, there are really few things as rewarding. Sitting in the audience at your child’s 6th grade band concert or landing that big contract in your business can be equally as exhilarating. If you want your kids to be active in your life after they move out, lead by example and take care of your parents as well as being active in their lives while they are growing up.

When I wrote the first draft of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t” I was thinking it was a book for kids. I realized pretty quickly that kids are the least likely demographic to buy a self-improvement book, and I actually thought about scrapping the project. It was later I realized that all of these ideas were ideas that parents could and should instill in their kids from an early age. Teaching your kids these skills will pay rewards for both you and them, for the rest of your lives.

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When Inspiration Hits, Take Advantage

bloomsburyshelfIt was a good week for the “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t” book. We picked up three retail locations, and our first book signing. You can get your copy at Bloomsbury Lane Toy Shoppe and Books in Lancaster, NY in the east. On the west coast you can get copies at both the Ballard and Greenwood locations of Sip-N-Ship in Seattle, Washington. I am talking to two other bookstores in the Buffalo area and hope to have some more retail locations soon.

I’ll also be signing copies at Bloomsbury Lane at 1. W. Main Street in Lancaster on “Small Business Saturday”, November 29, from 11 am- 1 pm. 

I’m not sure why, perhaps it is because I often think about the things I am thankful for during this time of year, but this week I was thinking about what it was that inspired me to write “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. The truth is, it was kind of the perfect storm of events that inspired me.

It was February of 2012. I had just read two different books that really inspired me. Carrie Wilkerson’s “The Barefoot Executive” and Brendon Burchard’s “The Millionaire Messenger”. Reading those two was absolutely the tipping point for me.
Here’s a picture of my two copies. burchardwilkersonbooksYou can see they are dog earred and filled with Post-it tags. I still look back to both of them for inspiration or for ideas for lessons for my students. Generally, books that I love are very well used. I get my money’s worth.

I read Brendon’s book first and I found the most important inspiration right on page one. (That, by the way, is awesome. There is no better hook than having a huge pearl right up front.) Brendon says “You are here to make a difference in this world, and the best way to do that is to use your knowledge and expertise (on any topic, in any industry) to help others succeed.”

That quote sums up my entire career. I am a teacher, at a Catholic high school. I certainly didn’t do it for the money. I do it everyday, because I think that sharing with my students the lessons that I learned is a good way to pay forward my gratitude for all of the successes I have had in life. I like to help people find the things they need to succeed. No matter where my career takes me from here, I know that I will always be teaching in some capacity. Brendon nailed it….”use your knowledge and expertise to help others succeed.” I thought to myself, “I can do that”.

Carrie Wilkerson’s book inspired me through her style. Her easy does it, laid back approach to writing was exactly what I needed. I absolutely knew that I couldn’t write in the stodgy, expert style that so many books are written in. It was intimidating. Carrie, however, wrote in a style that screamed “I work from home in my bare feet”. As a life long Jimmy Buffett fan, I really appreciate…nay….yearn for the barefoot lifestyle. I definitely thought I might have a chance at writing in the easy does it, laid back style that Carrie writes in. I think I did OK in that regard. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many other nuggets of wisdom in this book. The worth goes well beyond her writing style. Very worth the read if you want to be your own boss.

Both books taught me the importance of good titles. That is for certain. I bought Brendon’s on the recommendation of a good friend. I bought Carrie’s because I looked at the title and said, “Oh yeah. That’s the life I want.”

I’m a fan of mentoring and having mentors. I consider both Carrie Wilkerson and Brendon Burchard to be mentors even though I’ve never met either of them. Mentoring doesn’t have to be face to face. You can be mentored through a book or social media or a video series.

The third inspiration came in the form of a leadership conference for school that, at the beginning, was the worst professional development I had ever attended. I was anywhere but mentally present at that conference. It was mostly for elementary school teachers. After lunch, however, they took the handful of high school teachers and put us in a room with some college professors who asked “What do you want to learn today?” I said, “What are our kids lacking when they get to you?” Without a moment of hesitation they said “writing, skills, time management, independence, and critical thinking skills”. I remember walking out of that session and thinking “I wonder what else these kids need to be successful in life”.

So, in February of 2012, looking only to cross “write a book” off of my bucket list, I outlined “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. Now it is on the shelves in several book stores and available through Amazon. I’ll consider that a success. I’ve always got my eyes open for things that inspire me. Books, movies, walks in the park, people I meet. Inspiration comes in strange places and often when you least expect it. Make sure that you keep your eyes and your heart open to whatever inspiration may come knocking.

What unexpected thing inspired you to do something you are proud of? Share some inspiration below.


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Three Chapters for FREE

10 Things We Should Teach You in High School book coverI’m so excited about the coming launch of my book “10 Things We Should Teach You in High School and Usually Don’t” that I can’t wait to share it. So, today I am posting the first three chapters (The Introduction to explain why I wrote it, and the first two of the 10 things) Some people like to kick the tires before they buy. Well, here’s the chance. There’s no strings attached, nothing to sign up for or join, and no questions to answer. It is in PDF format and is all yours.

First three chapters of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t” 

The book itself will be up for sale soon. Early next week. If you want to keep up with what is going on, get some other video content that I have produced, and get some really serious discounts when the book is available, join the mailing list. I’ll even give you a FREE copy of another book I wrote called “Your Life – Version 2.0″. It’s all about getting started on making meaningful change in your life. That’s the hardest part, right?

Join the mailing list. It’s cool and I’ll never share or sell your info.

Thanks, as always, for reading along. I measure my success in how many people I can help to achieve their’s.

The only thing holding you back is YOU.

What’s one thing you wish you would have learned when you were younger that would have been a game changer in your life?

4 Things College Kids Don’t Know

A few years ago I attended a leadership conference for teachers. I’ll be honest, I thought it was mostly a waste of my time. It was for teachers of all grade levels, but it mostly focused on the elementary school teachers because most of the attendees were from those schools.

After lunch, I had already checked out mentally, and was working on my own stuff. Then we had a break away session for just high school teachers. The two college professors who were meeting with us had no real agenda. “Great,” I thought. More of a waste of time. Turns out to be one of the best sessions of any conference I have ever attended. I wish I remembered their names so I could credit them.

They started by handing out index cards, and asking us what we wanted to know. (A sure sign they had nothing planned. Insert eye roll.) I wasn’t even going to ask a question, but we were at a college, so I asked “What are our current high school students missing when they get to you in college?” Turns out that this is an often discussed topic. The college professors didn’t even have to think about an answer. Here’s what they said.

1. Writing Skills – Turns out that our kids cannot write at a college level. OMG, I wonder why. LOL. I teach every single one of my classes including Digital Art and Personal Finance classes that the most important thing they should be focusing on improving while in high school is their communication skills. Without fail. If they cannot write, and they cannot speak intelligently and confidently, they will not rise to the top. We live in a world where information and ideas are our commerce. Even if they are in a service industry they need to be able to interact with customers and potential customers. With poor communication skills, they will languish. Former President Gerald R. Ford had this to say:

“If I went back to college again, I’d concentrate on two areas, learning to write and to speak before an audience. Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.” 

I used this quote in my book “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t” because I agree so strongly.

writing_in_agenda2. Time Management – You would think with the busy schedules that kids keep, they would master this. Unfortunately, one of two things happens for the kids who don’t. Either their parents keep their schedules for them or they focus only on the things they like and not the things that are important. Neither of those actions will contribute to a successful life.

3. Independence – Both professors related horror stories about the parents of kids still calling the professors to ask about poor grades, or extra credit, or scheduling. A kid who is not independent by the time he or she is in college is in real trouble. If a parent called me as a college professor to ask about poor grades, I’d suggest that the kid wasn’t doing well because I was hearing from the parent and not the student.

4. Connecting the Dots – A lot of college kids can’t see why things are important or how they are related. Today’s information society requires a skill set that includes seeing relationships between causes and effects. Why do we teach math? It isn’t because factoring polynomials is important, most of us will never do it again, it’s because math is about problem solving. Why do we teach History? So that we can see the trends that have repeated themselves throughout history and the effects of those trends. Why do we teach Hamlet? So that kids can see the effects of acting impulsively (which teenagers have been known to do).

How can you, as a parent, help your kids to develop these skills better? Want to be a better writer? Start by being a better reader. From a young age, read with your kids. Don’t read to your kids, read with them. Before they can read, have them point out the pictures and tell you the story.

For better time management, work with your kids on keeping a family calendar and helping them to keep their own calendar. A lot of schools give their students planners. Urge your kids to use theirs and lead by example, by keeping one yourself.

Independent kids are taught to be independent. In the early years of his high school, I chose my son’s classes. Later he chose them with my advice. By the time he was a senior, he was choosing his classes, and since he moved to college, I have never even seen a schedule sheet. He makes his own doctors appointments and any other appointments he has. We have a relationship built on trust, and I have always taught him to make decisions.

For better critical thinking skills, make time to have conversations and ask questions that make your child think about the answers. Be engaged in her schooling. Know what she is studying and ask questions about it. It was not uncommon for me to read whatever book my son was reading for school so I could be a part of the learning process. I read or reread some pretty good books because of it.

What other skills do you think our kids are lacking, and what specific actions can we take as parents to help our kids grow in those skills?

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