Hundreds of times I’ve been asked questions after talk shows or speaking events about what it takes to set up a child to win at life. Basically people were asking for a step by step guidebook on how to meet the needs of a child, while leading them toward a life of early success instead of long term failure. It’s a great question, but since every child is different and every family has to overcome various challenges at different stages of life, there isn’t a 100% time tested answer to that question. That’s not bad news, it’s just life, but there is some good news if you want a sure bet solution to create strong and healthy kids; which comes from the advice that psychologist James Dobson told me once, “no matter how hard you try, your kids could still break all the rules and break your heart in the process- so stay on your knees and pray hard!”
After you pray for them, here’s a simple parenting formula that can help you to set your kids up to grow, mature and develop at any stage of life. I call it the “N.E.E.D. Formula” because it spells out the word need with the four key parenting strategies necessary to bring positive change to the children or teens in your life. Another important element is that the N.E.E.D. Formula will keep you on track as a balanced parent committed to bringing out the best in your kids without overindulging, over-protecting or over-controlling your children. (See more on this subject in the book “Loving your child too much” by Dr. Tim Clinton, @DrTimClinton ).
Here are the four essential parenting strategies your child needs to succeed.
This includes parenting a child through all of the basics required to survive on this planet; including, providing food, shelter, clothing, shoes, grooming supplies and training in how to do everything from dressing yourself, tying your own shoes, brushing your own teeth and knowing how to take care of your body with healthy food choices, hydration and getting enough sleep. Add to these basic elements of parenting basic medical and dental care as required by the needs of the child and you have the first category required to raise healthy children.
When this need is met a child feels a deep sense of safety.
This is the ‘soft love’ that children need to experience so often, which includes hugs, tickles, giggles, praise, ‘atta-boy’s or atta-girl’s’, kisses and lots of unconditional acceptance expressed verbally, like ‘I love you no matter what” especially when a child may be facing a difficult time or trying to recover from a painful experience or rejection.
– When this need is met a child feels a deep sense of Security
This is the ‘hard love’ that is most simply expressed through the word ‘no’. When a child begins to respect their parents, and really listens to the advice, counsel and direction provided by their mom and dad they begin the process of becoming equipped with incredible character qualities like self-discipline, self-control, responsibility and an understanding of boundaries, consequences and taking ownership for their behavior by being accountable to the authority sources in their life. (Like parents, grandparents, teachers and law enforcement officers.)
When this need is met a child develops confidence and strength.
Perhaps the most overlooked element in this process, because many parents forget that that their role of being a mommy or daddy isn’t forever. God set up a system of raising children to become strong young people to then launch them out into the world and let them go live their own lives. (Or as the popular song lyric goes, ‘Give them roots and give them wings).
This area includes coaching, guiding, educating, creating learning experiences, providing classes, training or growth events that nurture and develop the basic strengths of that child to become the man or woman that God designed them to be.
When this need is met a child experiences early success.
Now, let’s get personal – if you are gutsy, score yourself on a scale of 1-25, (25 is the highest), in each category to see how you are doing as a parent. Most parents do a great job in the N and E of the formula, but then begin to drop off on the second E and often get so busy that they never do much with the final D part of the formula at all. If a child has too many things provided for them, they don’t mature on track which can lead to falling way behind their peers in terms of becoming independent thinkers and self-reliant young adults.
Once you have identified the gaps in your own parenting style I challenge you to take positive action to work on your parenting approach so can you get better results with your kids at this stage of life. If you see one of the four key areas that are scored at 12 or below, then you may want to do some research to discover more specific ways to help your child be your best in those categories. If you are below a 5 in a particular category you may want to seek some professional guidance to maximize your potential as a parent in every area of your child’s life.
Fighting back against the biggest roadblocks to raising strong kids
Here are a few other key strategies that may help you bring out the best in your kids every day since I want you to have the best tools and resources possible to help your son or daughter be their best. Do this by overcoming the two biggest obstacles that tend to ‘steal’ your kids away from your parental influence. Those categories are Peers and Media. Solve this by using the strategies below to build stronger connections with their peers, then learning how to make positive connections in their choices of media and finally aggressively building on the natural strengths of your child.
1) Connection to a peer with similar values.
Battle back against negative peers by guiding your child toward peers with similar personality and similar family backgrounds and then nurture your child’s relationship with those positive peers. Sheila and I have rescheduled vacations, holidays and other planned family gatherings to make sure that our kids were able to experience every healthy relationship experience possible. Does that mean we are ‘meddling’ behind the scenes to get a more favorable outcome- you bet! Remember, it only takes one good friend in childhood or the turbulent teen years who can talk you out of making a bad decision, or one bad friend who can take you down. Peers have more power than parents at different stages, so take every action you can to point them toward positive role models and toward building healthy relationships today.
Peers are the #1 influencer during middle and high school so if you aren’t sure how to find healthy kids for your children to connect with, then remember to check out their friends from school or church groups, sports, or perhaps your child could make a great connection through someone they might meet in a specialty camp, like YMCA swimming lessons, Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, or Joe White’s incredibly effective sports camps- http://www.kanakuk.com/ . Our daughter Heidi has made and kept friends through the years who shared similar interests and values through her wonderful summer experiences at the Billy Graham summer program for kids in Black Mountain, NC, called “Camp Cedar Cliff” http://www.bgtc.info/ ).
2) Connection to positive media with a message they really relate to.
Find great movies, (Films like “Facing the Giants” for older kids or perhaps “Finding Nemo” for the younger set), powerful songs or fun TV shows that teach an important message – like the TV show “Are you smarter than a 5th grader”, which is a combination between “Who wants to be a millionaire” & “Jeopardy”. It’s a fun way to connect as a family because it shows that very bright 5th graders are very often smarter than ‘average’ adults in academic subjects so it’s a fun way to get everyone in the family involved in learning the basic facts of science, math or literature.
Another strategy to utilize is to consider how adding DVR or Tivo, (which is an add-on to your cable service and may require a new box), because this technology allows you to auto save the programs you want, and save time by fast forwarding past the commercials. This also gives you the power to pick whatever television shows your family can benefit from so they can watch things that empower, educate and inform when it’s most convenient, and gives you total parental control of the advertising messages they are exposed to.
Check out other great resources to help you find the best media fit for your child, like The Truth Project www.Truthproject.org on developing a Christian world view, or the Parents Television Council.http://www.parentstv.org/, the National Institute on Media and the Family,http://www.mediafamily.org/, The Dove Foundation, (which reviews music, films and television),http://www.dove.org/ or the really cool resource for parents to understand all forms of media and their influence on kids, “Plugged In Magazine- Online” at http://www.pluggedinonline.com/
3) Personality is the third factor, which is to find your child’s passion, (strength), as early as possible.
If someone is in love with piano, diving, golf, martial arts, small business, film, cartooning, tennis, skiing, newspaper, art, baseball, football, volunteering at the rescue mission, or FFA, it gives them valuable experience in the areas that they are best suited for, while protecting them from the dark side of culture reflected in the old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
I can still vividly remember how my parents guided me during my middle teen years with seeking out opportunities for me to do volunteer work at media stations. My early experiences at WDBO-AM, WFTV-TV9/ABC, WTLN-AM and WMFE-TV24/PBS created a love for communicating through media that lives on to this day. Media communication experiences in my middle teen years led to the desire to learn how to be a public speaker through joining the speech club, Toastmasters International, (www.toastmasters.org/) after high school. My parents wisely planted seeds during my childhood years that have grown into a lifetime of positive career experiences working in the field of communications by God’s grace.
(Side note: The book I recommended for adults to better understand building on strengths is “Now Discover your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Don Clifton. Dr. James Dobson has a tremendous amount of practical parenting strategies to overcome the most challenging of situations at his website, www.Family.org . And if your child struggles with school work or test anxiety, I highly recommend the insightful book by Dr. Mel Levine on the unbelievable challenges that face kids during the middle school years through high school, “Ready or Not, here life comes” or the wealth of information on learning style differences available at his excellent website, www.AllKindsofMinds.comwhich shows how to bring out the best in kids that don’t fit the ‘cookie cutter’ system of education used in many places. One size may fit all in flip-flops but it doesn’t work with children, so search until you find the role models and resources that will help you to best help your child).
Once you know what your child’s passion and strengths are – then actively get involved in building their confidence by developing those strengths by studying the lives of positive role models your child can identify with, or by finding private lessons to help them best utilize their skills, talents and natural abilities, or through summer camps. For instance if your child loved the ocean, consider Camp Sea World, where kids and parents actually do overnight camping in the park next to the Killer whales; or if a child is older they could attend the week long intensive programs offered by Sea World during the summer months and then come home and tell you all about what they learned as they begin to stretch their wings to fly away from home for a little while at this stage, to eventually soar out into the world as a confident young person.
Taking positive action now by planting seeds of greatness inside your son or daughter and then watering and developing those seeds to meet your child’s N.E.E.D.’s in a powerful way will set your kids up to win, and when they experience success early in life so do you! Do whatever you can now to help your kids with the N.E.E.D. Formula because the clock is ticking and you don’t get any time back. Remove any roadblock that keeps you from being the best mom or dad that you can be and do it today!
If this seems overwhelming to you, then here’s a simple strategy from my friend John Trent, PhD who challenges all of us to get involved in our kids lives through a series of tiny steps that eventually bring huge results. (learn more about this user-friendly concept in his book, The 2 degree Difference” available from his website, http://www.strongfamilies.com/) This message is made even more real as you listen to the words of noted author C.S. Lewis, who said, “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. This is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.”
This is your time to step up to make a positive difference in the life of your kids, so I hope that you will be challenged to meet their N.E.E.D.’s in a new way. Who knows, one day I may get to rejoice along with you as your child experiences early success because of your wise influence as the most important person on the planet to them. Between now and “launch time”- know that you are not alone in the journey and that there are people who will help you past the rough spots with your kids and even more who will cheer as your son or daughter experiences early success in the future from the seeds you planted in their lives today.
About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor and Certified Life Coach in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change.