What Children Need to Have the Best Chance at Later Success in Life
To thrive, children need a lot.
They need a safe environment. They need proper nutrition. They need emotional support and encouragement. They need limits and consistency. They need to be loved. They need to be allowed to safely make mistakes and to respectfully question family and cultural norms.
But, what do children need the most to have the best chance at later success in life?
Before we can answer this question, we must first define success. Is success defined by monetary measures, quality of relationships, adherence to societal expectations? Career achievement? Is success all of those? None of those? A favorite quote of mine on success comes from the late Maya Angelou:
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
You may agree with this definition or you may not. Ultimately, you must decide for yourself how success for your children looks.
In my opinion, everything you must do to ensure your children are in the best possible position to meet your definition of success can be summed up in one simple concept.
You must be sensitive to the needs of your child.
If you want your child to thrive, you must be sensitive to your child’s needs from birth to adulthood.
Before delving too deeply into why sensitivity is so crucial to the future success of children, I must first address some preconceptions around the word ‘sensitive’. There exists a stereotype that fathers are not supposed to be sensitive. Sensitive is a word better associated with female characteristics. Mothers are to be the sensitive nurturing ones who wipe away the tears. Fathers are to be the strong disciplinarians. The father’s role (especially with boys) is to ensure his children are tough.
Aside from being an incorrect way to view fathering, co-parenting and gender, these stereotypes poorly reflect what it is to be sensitive to a child’s needs. If ‘sensitive’ has too many negative presumptions for you, just exchange sensitive with attentive.
Being sensitive to your children’s needs is being aware of the developmental stages your child is going through at any given time and being able to respond to your children in a way that is encouraging and helpful to their growth. It takes many years for children to grow up to the point of having the ability to be self-sufficient. Children have a variety of needs that must be met to ensure proper development occurs.
Children need “love, attention, discipline, morals, nourishing food, safe drinking water, clean clothes to wear to school, adequate health care, a good education, and eventually, opportunities for higher education and meaningful and rewarding employment” (Waldfogel, p. 12, 2006).
Whether you attempt to be sensitive to your children’s needs or not, they are still learning from you (Burke, 2006). Children observe their parents to learn values and how to respond to the world around them. In a sense, you may choose to be sensitive to your child’s needs so as to have the most amount of control over what they are learning from you.
The ways in which fathers need to be sensitive varies greatly between developmental stages.
Early Childhood (Birth-5 years)
If you are the parent of an infant, you know very well that babies cry. They cry for many reasons. They cry because they are hungry, need changed, are tired, want to be held, are colicky, etc. Babies do not cry because they are trying to manipulate or punish you. In a certain sense, your baby is determining if they can trust you to meet their needs. You want your infant to form a strong attachment to you as this leads to generally calmer and more confident children. If you ignore their cries, they will potentially form a weak attachment with you which can lead to a variety of potential developmental concerns. (To read more on attachment, click here.)
Practical Application – If your baby is crying, do not ignore them. Go find out why your baby is crying and attend to their needs.
(Note – The research on sleep studies is extensive, and it is not my desire to start a heated debate. You may disagree and that is okay. I will say that I only recommend using techniques that have the most positive benefits to your child’s development.)
School Age (6-12 years)
As children go through the elementary school years, they begin to see themselves as individuals and to wonder how they might fit into the culture around them. This time in a child’s life is sometimes referred to as the age of reason (Waldfogel, 2006). As children become more aware of themselves and their place in society, they look to their parents for their attitudes should be.
Practical Application – Encourage learning. Praise them for trying to learn new concepts even if they fail. Challenge them (in a positive way) to learn more once they have mastered a skill.
Adolescence (13-18 years)
There is a bit of myth that once children hit adolescence, their parents have little to no influence over them. Findings from research strongly suggest children are more likely to engage in pro-social behaviors when their parents are actively involved in their lives (Waldfogel, 2006). This is not to say it is easy to stay involved in your children’s lives, but no one ever said parenting was easy.
Practical Application – Eat together. Children who eat at least five meals a week with their parents are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. There is nothing magical about sharing a meal that gives teenagers the ability to not make poor decisions; it is the conversations that occur around a shared meal that makes the difference. Ask open-ended questions. The conversation doesn’t even have to be over a meal. It doesn’t really matter where the conversations are occurring as long as they are occurring. (Google “open-ended questions to ask teens” if you’re stuck on what to ask.)
(Note – At Raising Up Dads, the focus of child development is on Early Childhood, School Age and Adolescence. These are very broad ranges covering ages 0 – 5, 6 – 12, and 13 – 18. These stages/ages are loosely based on human lifespan development theory. They should not be taken as representative of human lifespan development theory. There is much overlap between stages. Development occurs differently for every person. The information presented herein should be considered normative rather than ‘normal’. If you have a specific question or wish for more information about a development stage, comment below, contact us or message us on Facebook.)
I attempt to be sensitive to my children’s needs. It is difficult and tiring. It requires a near constant attentiveness to knowing what is going on in their lives. I am not recommending over-parenting or helicopter parenting. Those approaches to parenting can be just as harmful. (Click here for a great Ted Talk related to over parenting!) Being sensitive is not about doing everything for my children or overly protecting them from failure. Being sensitive is understanding the life stage my child is going through and understanding what approach I should take that will be most beneficial to their overall development.
I want my children to be confident and compassionate people both now and when they grow up. I want them to be able to handle adversity and disappointment whether that be getting pushed down on the playground or not getting the job they wanted.
I cannot guarantee that my approach to parenting means my children will automatically be successful later in life. No parenting theory can make that guarantee. Children grow up and make their own decisions. As a parent, all I can do is raise them in an environment in which they have the best opportunities to be successful later in life. Being sensitive to their needs throughout childhood is the approach that gives children the best opportunity to thrive both now and in adulthood.
What do you think? How do you define success? What are your thoughts on being sensitive to the needs of your children? Comment below – we’d love to hear from you!
Burke, R., Herron, R., Barnes, B. (2006) Common sense parenting. Boys Town, NE: Boys Town Press
Waldfogel, J. (2006). What children need. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.