Parents spend a lot of time telling their kids what to do and how to be, getting frustrated and angry when they don’t comply. Kids do what we do, not what we say. If you truly want your kids to succeed, then stop telling them and start showing them how to do these 4 C’s:
1. Curiosity: The good news is we are all born curious. The bad news is, the innovation-driving, emotion-calming skill that comes to us naturally as kids, gets buried by our busy, multitasking lifestyles as adults. While it isn’t a new skill parents have to “teach” their kids, parents must consistently nurture curiosity and model it. We believe that curiosity is the most important skill for success at any age. Why? Because when we aren’t curious about ourselves and others we aren’t present, we can’t actively listen, we don’t ask questions to learn or understand, we become closed to new perspectives and opportunities, we don’t discover, we don’t collaborate, and we don’t innovate.
Curiosity supports critical thinking and problem solving, teaching kids that there is more than just one way to do anything. Curiosity is how we find passion in life and then pursue it. As parents, supporting kids in their curiosity will give them a leg up as leaders. It will support them through their struggle, frustration and failures. It will nourish independence, competence and connection in others.
According to Dr. Bruce Perry, M.D, PhD “our potential — emotional, social, and cognitive — is expressed through the quantity and quality of our experiences. And the less-curious child will make fewer new friends, join fewer social groups, read fewer books, and take fewer hikes. The less-curious child is harder to teach because he is harder to inspire, enthuse, and motivate”. 1
2. Communication: Being present, actively listening, asking questions to understand – these are fundamental communication skills that are essential to succeed in life at any age. The unfortunate part is, we are NEVER taught how to do them, we are simply expected to do them and do them well. Spoiler alert! We don’t. Parents can teach these communication skills by modeling them to their kids. Put down the screen, magazine, phone or whatever you may be working on when your child is talking to you. Be present in the moment, giving your child your full attention and actively listen to what they are saying.
Get curious with your kids and ask curious, open questions (who, what, where, how, and tell me more) to better understand them: their needs, their perspective, or how they want to solve their own problem. When parents don’t ask curious, open questions they tell, fix, judge, blame, shame and solve problems for their kids – robbing their kids of accountability. It always amazes us how little awareness parents have around how they communicate with their kids when they are young, yet are quick to blame their teenagers who won’t listen to them or share any details of their life with them as they get older.
These teens have had many years of modeling what “communication” is. The good news is you can start curious communication at any age. When we take the time to be present, actively listen, and ask curious, open questions we see, hear and understand others. This messages respect and builds relationships. When working with teens in leadership development they often thank us for teaching them basic communication skills because no one is teaching them how to communicate effectively and they want to learn how. Adults want to be seen, heard and understood – your kids are no different. How you speak to your kids now is how they are going to speak to you, and others, as they grow.
3. Compassion: As parents we all want what is best for our kids, however, if we aren’t curious to understand them it is difficult to be compassionate to their needs. Social media, cyber bullying, school expectations – the landscape for kids today is foreign to all parents and impossible to relate back to when we were kids. Compassion creates space for empathy and understanding, learning about others, and new perspectives. It is what makes us human. Most importantly, when we are truly compassionate with our self and others, we don’t judge and we cultivate gratitude. Something this world could use a lot more of – less judgment, more gratitude!
Teach your kids to be compassionate with themselves and others by being curious. Focus on being present to actively listen, suspending judgment and asking open, curious questions to learn and understand others. Be compassionate with yourself and your children – parenting today is hard. Being a kid today is just as hard. There is no perfect way of doing either. Pay attention to judgment in conversations and then get curious, what assumptions could you be making? What are the reasons behind the judgment and what could you learn from it instead? Finally, practice compassion through gratitude. At the end of the day get curious as a family, what are you grateful for?
4. Collaboration: Most families like to think of themselves as a team, however, how often do you truly act like one? Families can be messy and chaotic, but with the absence of collaboration, they can also be full of conflict. Collaboration is the core of successful teamwork (if you have been on a team of any kind you know what we are talking about). Being able to effectively work in a team is critical to success in life and understanding how to do that begins at home.
In families, parents are often the one dictating the needs and how they are to be met – it is their way or the highway. This almost always ends in conflict, relationships fracture and things are said that later are often regretted. Start teaching your kids collaboration by modeling it in your family unit. This means understanding the needs of all family members and finding a way together to meet them. It also teaches kids that often you have to do things you may not want to do (chores, homework, carpool) in order to achieve a greater goal and how to be accountable for your actions.
Parents, get clear about family expectations. Outline the needs of the family together and then take the time to understand what your kid is capable of doing. Never do something for your kids that they can do themselves. We know, it’s faster, easier and get’s done the way you like it. It also messages your kids are not capable of doing it and negates learning and accountability. Collaboration takes the focus off any one way, one person or one belief, teaching your children how to come together and work as a team. There are days where your team is going to be awesome and days when you are going to suck. How you teach your kids to navigate those moments together is going to have a far greater impact than the moment itself.
- Bruce Ducan Perry, M.D., Ph.D, “Curiosity: The Fuel Of Development”, Scholastic.com, http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/bruceperry/curiosity.htm
Kirsten Taberner Siggins and Kathy Taberner are a mother/daughter communication consulting team with a focus on curiosity and founders of the Institute Of Curiosity. Their new book The Power Of Curiosity: How To Have Real Conversations That Create Collaboration, Innovation and Understanding (Morgan James 2015) gives parents or leaders (or both) the skills and the method to stay curious and connected in all conversations, even in conflict.