“I want my children to grow up and be complete failures” has been said by no one, ever.
Of course, we all want to raise successful kids. The problem is many of us approach the idea without much thought or definition. What does it look like to raise a child to be successful? A quick internet search reveals that success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” So what are we aiming at? What does success look like?
Being rich? Having a healthy marriage and family life? Feeling happy?
There are many ideas that might define what raising successful children looks like. So, the first step is to define what we think is success for our children.
Here are the answers for our family from least to most important:
4. Be financially independent
3. Be happy and healthy
2. Have a great marriage and children (if they choose to)
1. Love God and love their neighbor
Generally, children are under our roof and direct influence for 18 years. That’s it. What will contribute to their success will change as they mature from being totally dependent on you toward being totally independent of you.
Let’s divide these 18 years into three periods; pre-school, grammar school and secondary school. What helps a child in one time period is not exactly the same as in another. Some things remain constant but change in how we encourage it. For instance, everyone agrees that eating healthy and exercising is good for our children. But, the way we promote healthy eating and exercise will be different for a four-year old than a 17 year-old.
- Children are born with a natural curiosity about life, so don't kill it. We don’t have to create a natural curiosity in children—they already have it. Our job is to foster it.
- Little children love to learn, they want to understand the wonder of life. Give them lots of opportunities. Let them explore the world, play in the dirt, smell the flowers, hear the ocean. Coming home with snakes or frogs in the pockets is not a criminal act.
- Begin to develop the tools of learning. Reading, writing and math are the building blocks of all academic learning. Use the many tools available: apps, books, web sites, games, television, etc.
- Read to them. Do it often. Read about things you know they like. Read about things you think they’ll like. Give them broad exposure to the big world out there and deep exposure in their interests. Both are important.
- Love them and tell them so.
Grammar School (5 – 12)
- Make sure their reading ability and math skills are developed as soon as is practical. Don’t be fooled by the standards observed around you. Kids can do more than we think they can. They did in the past and they can now. Nearly all children can be fluent readers by the end of first grade. Mastery of math facts—adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing—will vary greatly with children but most can master them by end of second grade, given enough attention.
- Teach them Latin. This is not learning a foreign language. Learning Latin is a tool of leverage for developing the language skills for speakers of English. Most of our language comes from Latin. Its study will develop their understanding of vocabulary, grammar, sayings, and expressions. It will aid their understanding of science, law, government, and theology. It will help them learn modern foreign languages. And it will train their minds. Starting around third grade is perfect.
- Encourage independent reading. Many successful children love reading. It opens a door where they can always explore new things and ideas. Historically we always seem to come back to reading the Great Books—there is a reason. Learning from the past helps us plan for and develop the future.
- Make sure their education is right for them. Not all children learn in the same way. Is your child a visual learner, an auditory learner, or kinesthetic (hands on) learner? Make sure they are provided the opportunity to learn the way they’re wired.
- Emphasize memorization. At this age they are good at it and love it. The very act of memorization trains the mind. It can be useful things like States and Capitals or it can be silly things. We recommend some of both. How many songs and poems do you remember from when you were a child? “Row, row, row your boat” or addition tables—it really doesn't matter. If you can still picture your parents doing this with you, you already know why this is important.
- Own the responsibility for their education. No one but you cares as much about your child's education. You must be their advocate and not just assume that they are getting what they need.
- Love them and tell them so.
Secondary School (13 – 18)
- Teach them how to argue well. Children this age want to argue. That’s actually good. But they need to learn to argue well. In the past this was done by teaching formal and informal logic. Try it. You’ll be amazed.
- Encourage their interest in understanding how things are connected. How did the War for Independence and the War Between the States connect? How did the development of art and the development of philosophical thought connect? Not only does this help them understand the world, it teaches cause and effect.
- Give them increasing freedom with intentionality. The more responsibility they show, the more freedom they can be trusted with. They’re leaving home at some point. Practicing that freedom under some supervision will help them navigate it when it’s unsupervised.
- Teach them how to communicate winsomely. We taught our children Rhetoric—the kind that Aristotle popularized. The ability to communicate winsomely cannot be overrated in almost any area for the success of an adult.
- Grease the skids of their interests. If they demonstrate commitment and sustained interest in something, do all you can to provide them opportunity in it. One of our kids had an internet business that included more than a dozen NBA players at the age of 13 just because we encouraged and subsidized his interest. His entrepreneurial endeavors continue.
- Love them and tell them so.
Raising children is a tremendous blessing, even though it very hard at times. Enjoy every minute. It’s over before you realize it.
By Marlin and Laurie Detweiler
Marlin and Laurie Detweiler live in Lancaster, Pa. They own and operate Veritas Press which develops and sells curricular materials to Christian schools and home schools along with operating an online school. They have developed an app that teaches reading called the Phonics Museum. They have four boys, three daughter-in-laws, and three grandchildren with another on the way.