The 5 traits kids needs to be successful adults...and how to cultivate them

What does it take to be a successful adult?  How can we get our kids to that place?

What does "successful" mean, anyway?

The dictionary defines "success" as "accomplishment of one's goal".  However you define success, I think that all parents want our children to be happy, well-adjusted, independent (at least of us!), grownups who bring value to the world around them and live for a purpose greater than their own pleasure.  To Paul and me, that is success.

The question then becomes - how do we parent in the time we have them under our roof to better their chances of such success?

I've observed lots of folks, some up close and some from afar, that I consider "successful".  Their vocational callings range from missionaries in a foreign land to chicken salesmen to a bedridden grandmother.  From a kindergarten teacher to a CEO to a builder.  From a maintenance man to a parttime coach to "just a mom".  And lots and lots of different spots in amongst all these.  Folks who are driven by their desire to succeed......but not with financial goals or positions of achievement but
rather with meaning and purpose and value.  Folks who want to impact the lives of others in a positive way.  To leave a legacy of joy and peace and love.  To bring glory to God.

As I've pondered these many folks, I have identified some commonalities.  Traits that seem to set them apart....traits to which their success can be attributed. 

If we want to parent our kids towards success, these are the traits that can get them there.

1.  Perseverance
You and I know that life is sometimes often hard.  We're tempted to give up, give in, or just give out.  In all areas of life - our vocation, our relationships, even our faith.  What we need is the ability to steadily continue in spite of obstacles and discouragement.  We need perseverance.
2.  Unselfishness
Admittedly, this flies in the face of most of the world's thinking.  We hear "look out for number 1", "nice guys finish last", and the like.  While that may help you climb the ladder, I think that once you reach the top, you will find you had leaned it against the wrong wall.  Unselfishness, instead, brings far greater joy and satisfaction than a continual self-focus.  In fact, the less one focuses on self, the happier one tends to be!
3.  Optimism
I am not suggesting an unrealistic denial of reality.  But I am advocating for cheerful, non-critical, encouraging attitudes.  There will be more than enough negative views - those who manage to be confidently positive will forever reap the benefits of creativity, energy, and joy.  And,the bonus perk of more social invitations because everybody would rather be around someone who sees the glass half-full!
4.  Gratitude
A spirit of thankfulness instead of a sense of entitlement is a major determiner of success.  It guards against bitterness and cynicism and promotes an atmosphere of cooperation and acceptance.  By gratitude, I do not mean a laissez faire attitude that simply takes whatever comes its way.  I don't advocate a mentality that accepts substandard effort as "whatever will be will be".  I am a big proponent of striving for excellence and expecting the best from your kids (and yourself).  By "gratitude", I mean a lack of a "victim mentality" or a feeling that the world owes you something (anything!), or a belief that you deserve the good things that come your way.  Rather, gratitude expects to work hard just because it's right and that when good things happen, it's because God is gracious and He works through gracious people to bless His undeserving saints.  Gratitude is closely linked to humility because a thankful heart is one that realizes it doesn't truly deserve anything good.  So whenever something good is given, gratitude flows out.
5.  Resilience
The importance of this trait cannot be overstated.  Because, let's face it, LIFE doesn't go according to plan.  In spite of hard work (and perseverance and unselfishness and optimism and gratitude), sometimes things just don't work out like we want them to.  We fail.  Others fail.  Life fails us.  So, the ability to get back up, to bounce back, to try again after failure may very well be the major determinant for success. 

Great traits.  But how do we cultivate them in our kids?

Probably a million different ways.  A million different times.  And then a million more.  But here are some suggestions -

1.  For perseverance - Don't "overhelp".  Let your kids struggle to do something on their own.  Yep, that's right. Let them struggle.  Even when - especially when - you could make it easier for them.  I'm not suggesting you abandon your kids and tell them to figure it out on their own but I am saying you need to step back.  No helicopter parenting.  Let them struggle. Do not let them think things are "supposed" to be easy.  Let them know that pressing on is the key to success. From tying their shoes to their math homework to marital contentment.  And then applaud the perseverance more than the "success"!!!!

2.  For unselfishness - This is definitely not going to come naturally!  So purpose to develop it.  From letting your 5 month old wait a bit before responding to her insistence for food to having your kids buy gifts for each other to volunteering at the homeless shelter together, constantly look for ways to help your child redirect the focus to others.  And when you observe acts of unselfishness, affirm it.  Because, trust me, it isn't natural -- it's Supernatural!

3.  For optimism - You're going to get labeled "Pollyanna" or even delusional but consistently point out the positive side of things to your kids.  Authenticate their feelings, yes, but then gently redirect them to the blessings or the silver lining or whatever.  Maintain an optimistic outlook regardless of the circumstances.  When kids see this in their parents, this is not only an example to emulate but it is also a means of quelling anxiety and instilling confidence in them.  Confidence that God is good and that He is always at work to bring good to His people.  Even when we can't see that!

4.  For gratitude -  You require it ! :)  Now I know you can't manufacture a thankful heart inside of your child but you can insist that they write thank you notes (handwritten!  this is a lost art!!), express verbal gratitude and never say "no problem"!!!!!!!!!!!  Continually point out things to be thankful for (great follow-up to an optimistic attitude....) to both God and fellow man.  Oh, and a cheerful, genuine attitude are also requisites for a grateful heart :)

5.  For resilience - When your child fails, don't let them wallow in it. Encourage them to express their remorse, their sadness, and their discouragement but then insist that they move on.  Try again.  As my friend Nancy says to her dear children - "here's some legos - build a bridge and get over it!!" Even if your hands are sweating and your knees are knocking, don't let them smell your fear.  Inspire them with your confidence in their ability to get up and try again.  Not a screaming soccer mom on the sidelines, demanding that little Johnny keep trying to score so that she can validate her own success but rather a quiet, courageous assurance that Johnny is gonna be triumphant. Because he's gonna get back up and keep going.  Instead of floundering in his blunder and expecting somebody to make him feel better.

There's one more thing.  One more key to developing these traits in our kids.

The most important thing.  The main thing.  The major factor.

The main to lead by example.  No substitute for this.  Kids will imitate what they see modeled.  Scripture puts it this way A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40).

Scariest verse in the Bible.