These are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned as a father and a leadership coach about raising collaboratively minded children. They were culled from a much longer list which is linked below for readers hungry for more. As you read, keep in mind that what works for one parent or family may not for another. Things will not always go smoothly, no matter how wise or well-tested your approach.
Fortunately, children are resilient. They muddle through despite more than a few “mistakes.” The suggestions have come to me through experience, observation, research, and years of working with clients whose aim was to raise collaboratively-minded children. No matter your age or experience, I hope you find this collection inspiring, and that over time, it changes your life and your children’s lives for the better.
When your child asks a question, consider responding, “I’m not sure… what do you think?”
They might surprise you with what they already know!
Try not to laugh or condescend (e.g., "oh, isn't that cute?") when your young child shares their naive explanations… kids come up with some of the most wonderfully creative and brilliant theories about how the world works. Their creativity should be celebrated.
Resist the temptation to solve your child’s problems. Instead, help them identify, evaluate (for safety) and experiment with their own solutions.
Your child’s problem is not necessarily your problem to solve.
When your child asks for help, ask in return, “what have you tried?”
Resist doing for your children what they can do for themselves... especially when what they’ve tried on their own represents relatively little investment of energy or creativity. They are more capable than anyone thinks, and often, more capable than they’d like you to know.
Find ways of expressing your support that foster your child’s own growth and learning.
Expect a few messes. Learn to accept messiness as part of the learning process.
Do not do your children’s homework for them… ever.
Model your values and preferred behaviors. It’s more effective than talking about them.
Of course, we need to explain to children what’s important to us. But they’re watching us closely, and our actions speak louder than our words.
Have patience and keep the faith. Children eventually do as their parents do, but often resist what they’re told to do.
If you wish to maintain influence with your children as they grow, be willing to be influenced by them. Influence is a two-way street.
Children can teach us as much as we teach them.
Develop a willingness and ability to receive feedback from your children and others, even when it’s poorly delivered.
Learn to deliver effective feedback. (See related post.)
Invite your young child to help you with housework as early as they show interest.
Establish household chores and quality-of-work expectations early on. (It becomes increasingly difficult to introduce chores as children grow older.) Even two and three year-olds can help pick up their toys and clean their room.
Continually re-evaluate whether their chores and your quality expectations are age appropriate.
School homework is no excuse for failing to contribute to household chores.
Allow your child to fail. Ask them what they learned? Give them opportunities try again. We all learn by failing.
Allow them to feel (at least some of) the pain of failing… otherwise, they’ll fail to learn, which is the only true failure.
When they’re ready, ask your child what they might do differently next time.
Help your child distinguish between blame and accountability.
Finding who’s at fault and blaming reinforces a victim mindset, which is ultimately dis-empowering for everyone.
Instead, model the practice of being accountable for your part, and encourage your child to acknowledge theirs.
Learn, practice, and ultimately teach your child what it means to create psychological safety for others. Psychological safety makes it possible to take responsibility.
Resist the temptation to blame others. Blame is highly contagious.
Become conscious of when you're using fixed labels to describe people, especially your children.
As parents, it's tempting to praise our kids for being smart, talented, handsome and beautiful. And, of course, they are! But research indicates that there can be unintended consequences.
Seek opportunities to acknowledge your children for working hard, thinking creatively, or dressing attractively. Focus on acknowledging your child's effort and learning, not their fixed attributes
Help your child understand and appreciate diversity.
School is only partially about learning to read, write and reason. It is also about developing emotional intelligence, learning to collaborate inter-dependently, and developing empathy for people outside of family so that our kids can eventually participate successfully in community and society.
Every child recognizes differences between themselves and others. Affirm them in what they observe. Help your child distinguish between the existence of differences, and the judgments they may have (good/bad, right/wrong) about those differences.
Help your child recognize that we share much more in common with others than we are different, but that our brains are wired to identify and mistrust differences. That old wiring used to be more helpful than it is in modern times.
Teach your children to be curious and to engage openly with others regarding the differences they perceive.
Acknowledge that learning to navigate through and negotiate our differences is challenging even for adults, and that the rewards for people who learn such skills are significant. Ask your child to consider what the world would be like if people were unable to live and work with each other despite having differences.
Healthy parent-child relationships must involve conflict. If you’re not experiencing some conflict with your child, either you’re not spending enough time together, or you’re not setting clear expectations and boundaries.
Teens and tweens need to individuate, which means to craft their own identity. Often, the only way they know how is to push against your values and your worldview.
When this happens, consider saying, “Maybe I’m not seeing the whole picture… what’s your thinking?”
Conflict is the natural byproduct of people having of unmet expectations.
Learn to see conflict as a sign that a new agreement might be needed, or an old agreement might need revisiting.
Remain open to forming new agreements and amending old ones as your children grow older and more mature.
If this list prompted any questions or reactions, I'd love to hear from you.
If you're curious, follow this link to our full Parent's Guide to Raising Collaborative Children.
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