“Leonardo the Terrible Monster” by Mo Willems

In my August posts, I have been trying to respond to the question that takes away sleep from many engaged parents:  How to raise a successful child? The issue seems to be of high importance, considering the number of books, articles and blogs (including this one) dealing with the topic. As a result, the concerned moms and dads get overwhelmed and drive themselves into a frenzy. The child is signed up to various enrichment classes,  joins numerous sport teams and is on the waiting list to a reputable school. Hmm… I can’t hep thinking that something got lost in translation.

If you ask me, raising a successful child means helping them to gain control over their lives and make the most of their potential. In the last four posts, I suggested building on talents, boosting self-confidence, and adding a mix of wisdom and knowledge, as a recipe for success.  Sounds complicated? It is not a rocket science, though. You really don’t need a certified  instructor to teach your child basic life skills. Children are natural learners. They have it in them. Raising a successful child is not about filling a preschooler’s day to the brim. It is about healthy balance. Next to stimulation, children need down-time to discover their creativity. And last but not least, raising a thriving child is primarily about love, bonding and acceptance. A child’s value should not be directly proportional to their performance in a piano recital or a spelling competition.  We should love our children just because they are our children. Or rather, just because they are. We need to raise a loved child before we think about raising a successful individual.

If you had any doubts about my parenting strategy, now you know for sure that I am not a tiger mom. I am more of a mother hen. A quiet time with my son, when we  just snuggle, or reading a silly book are for me as important and precious as when we learn how to spell a new word.

So, take a break  from  agendas and timetables and do something  fun with your child. How about a funny book, just for the laughs? I recommend our latest giggle trigger about  Leonardo, a hopeless monster. Lots of  LOL guaranteed!

“David Goes To School” by David Shannon

Last week I claimed the supremacy of wisdom over knowledge, as far as what’s more useful in life. Although I still stand by it, I don’t dismiss knowledge as such. I would be a hypocrite if I did. I am very proud of every little bit that I have learned at school and beyond, even if I have already forgotten most of it. Yes, I was a dork, indeed. Years later, I have one grudge, though. The knowledge I was gaining at school, seemed so detached from real life. I was studying chemical formulas and periodic tables, but I couldn’t see a connection between bases and baking soda, for example. Luckily, learning has become more hands-on these days. Thanks goodness for that, as I would rather have my son understand a topic instead of quoting encyclopedias. To illustrate my argument, let me mention a little Bangladeshi boy, who in his attempt to impress me with his knowledge of English,  fluently recited a paragraph from his handbook on the qualities of jute. At the same time, he was unable to respond to a simple  “What’s your name?”

I do believe we should raise knowledgeable children. And of course, since we, parents can’t teach them everything on every subject,  the role of school in this respect is undeniable. Children should go to school to get education that will properly respond to their potential. Again, I am not trying to say, do what you can, pay what you can’t, but send your child to the best private school around. Certainly not. (Unless you choose to be a part of an exhausting and humiliating charade… Anyone seen “The Best and The Brightest”?) There are lots of good schools to choose from and even more talented, dedicated and charismatic teachers, that just wait to be exploited by motivated and knowledge-hungry students. Let’s take advantage of them!

There is one other aspect I’d like to touch upon, when speaking about schooling of our children. I believe that  the primary purpose of school is to learn. Children progress from “I don’t know” to “I do know”. It is okay not to know in the beginning. What I see, however , is that parents often view school as a place to show off their children’s error-free achievements and impeccable behavior. Children are sent to school a year later, to get a cognitive advantage over the younger class mates or  follow after-school math and reading classes, in order to be ahead of the curriculum. Where is it all going to?

Just a few days before the school starts, I invite you to read “David Goes To School”.  As you can see in this school adventure, even a naughty student like David will not be expelled from school, but will be taught the proper behavior. After a series of reprimands, he will finally deserve a star for doing a good job. 

A hilarious way to help your child (and yourself ) prepare for a new school year. If David does fine at school, every child will.

“The Incredible Book Eating Boy” by Oliver Jeffers

Now, that we have already established that we should help our child discover and develop their talents, as well as take care of his or her confidence level, there is one more thing we can do towards our children’s success. Give them books! At first I wanted to write: give them knowledge. After all, there is a lot of knowledge in books, so the two could be synonymous. On second thoughts, though, books go BEYOND knowledge. Books provide inspiration, feed our imagination, and most importantly, books are full of wisdom, which is far more useful in life than knowledge alone. Knowledge is about theory, wisdom is about  theory application. Knowledge can be crammed in our heads overnight, which can be helpful to pass a test or exam, but it might still add little value to our grades in the school of life.  Success in life includes wisdom. But getting wise takes time. It comes with age and experience.  Thanks to books, we won’t age faster, but can be more selective about our experiences. We don’t need to jump into fire in order to find out that it can burn us. We can just read about it. Right!  Sounds a bit too easy, doesn’t it?  No book is as convincing as our own mistakes. But perhaps books can save us from making the same mistake twice? So, let me repeat, fellow parents: let’s give our children a gift of books. Let’s read books to them and with them. Let’s make them read. But let’s bear in mind the following: books should not overwhelm a child and reading should enrich their lives with things bigger than knowledge. Why? Look at what happened to poor Henry…

Henry liked books. In a very peculiar way. He liked to eat books. Not metaphorically, though. He really ate them. Any book would do but red ones were his favorite. It all started by  accident, but he liked the taste. Even more, after he’d noticed how smart he was getting on his special book diet!  Until his stomach and brains couldn’t take it anymore…. Things got really mixed up in Henry’s head. “2+6= elephant?” Henry knew he had to stop eating books. And that’s how Henry discovered a healthy pleasure of reading books.

A genius piece of work! Humor, wisdom, and a truly incredible reading experience.

“There Are Monsters Everywhere” by Mercer Mayer

What does a story about monsters have to do with raising a successful child? Nothing and everything, it depends on how you read it. My interpretation goes beyond a spooky story. For me, today’s book  is about boosting confidence, which I find a crucial factor in reaching any success in life. By confidence I don’t mean arrogance or conceitedness. A confident child is not an insecure smart-aleck. He or she is brave and believes in his or her abilities. Unfortunately, confidence is not an inherent trait but needs to be gradually developed, and the parents’ role in this intricate and quite intangible process can’t be denied.

There are many ways to enhance confidence in your child, depending on their personality, skills and fears. However, it will always boil down to creating opportunities that will showcase their strengths.

A boy in Mercer Mayer’s story was afraid of monsters, that seemed to be lurking everywhere in the house. They would hide when his parents were in, but when the boy was home alone, the monsters would come out to bother and scare him. The only safe place was the top of his bunk bed. Finally, the boy grew tired of being “pushed around by a bunch of monsters”. He signed up to karate classes, to learn how to protect himself from the monstrous beasts. The cool karate moves and tricks, like breaking a board with his bare hand, were sure to scare any monster away. And they did. With a black karate belt, who cares about monsters, even if they are everywhere!

Martial arts are generally known as an effective confidence booster. It worked for the boy in the book, and it certainly works for my little Taekwondo master-to-be.  I can fully recommend it for any parent looking for a proven tool to shape a strong, self-assured character. But confidence development goes beyond sports. Children need to be praised for their daily successes and achievements. A trivial star for doing a good job has a big meaning for a little guy. Consistent and genuine positive reinforcement and encouragement, as opposed to randomized and luke hearted praising, which only confuses a child and sends a mixed-message, does wonders and I’m confident that you won’t have to wait long  to see your child’s confidence shine.

“Something Special” by David McPhail

One way a parent can help their child to succeed in life is by helping them discover their talents. Am I presumptuous claiming that all children have a talent to discover?  Well, I do not mean, that we all should drag our kids to castings and photo-shoots, or force them to play soccer hoping to raise the next Ronaldo. The nuance in my assumption is that we all have SOME KIND OF TALENT that needs to be identified.  Perhaps not every gift can be commercialized or lead to a Nobel Prize, but if we only give a child a chance to follow their heart, they are sure to discover their greatness and happiness.

Sam thought he wasn’t great at anything. Unlike his sisters, he didn’t play the piano, and he wasn’t  a baseball champion. Unlike his brother, Sam wasn’t a computer whiz. Sam’s dad was a great cook and his mom liked to carve wooden birds, but Sam was good at neither. Sam tried to find his strength by trying different things, but in vain. Until, almost by accident, he discovered that he could actually paint. “Sam’s family thought that being able to paint was something special… and so did Sam.”

What I find crucial in this story are two things. First, Sam was let to explore until he found what suited him best. Secondly, when Sam has finally discovered his talent, the family appreciated it. Sounds obvious, but it is not always the case. Parents often have fixed and false ideas about what their children’s areas of interest should be and try to promote it at the cost of what the child really wants to do in life.  A promising dancer is pushed to become a lousy lawyer, just because the job is more secure. A talented athlete wastes his energy on playing the piano, because it was always his mother’s dream. I never even mentioned to my parents that I wanted to become a writer, as in their opinion it is not even a hobby, let alone a profession. Children need to be supported in following their dreams. At the same time, a smart parent can help a child to distinguish between a dream and illusion.  Just imagine how much shorter the lines for American Idol auditions would be…

Enjoy searching for that something special in and with your child. Maybe it’s their sense of humor, or great taste-buds, or maybe a charming voice. They have it in them. Help them to bring it out.