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Raising Successful Children in the 21st Century

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at my children’s school. The talk was about raising successful children in the 21st century. There so many aspects of success that it would be impossible to cover them all in one short session so I focused on the following five points which I believe to be very pertinent to our children’s development today…


Successful Children 21st Century
Source: Quotes Valley

When I was growing up, failure was a dirty word. We thought it made us look bad so we did everything to avoid it. Now, we know better. Failure isn’t bad – it’s what we do with it that defines whether it is good or bad. Failure can be a powerful opportunity to learn IF we choose to accept it. That may be one of the most powerful lessons we can teach our children.

Emma Reynolds who spoke at TEDx HKUST said it rather aptly:

Avoiding failure leads to mediocrity. Failure is what pushes us to the lengths we need to go to ensure we get smarter, stronger, and more focused. Failure results in learning. Learning is growth. Growth is awesome. Failure can be so powerful. Success is failure. Failure is success. Successful people are simply the ones who deal with failure best. Your 20s are for taking big, crazy-ass risks. A life lived without failure is not success. It’s mediocrity.

The problem with failure is that it hurts. As parents, one of the hardest things we can do is watch our children hurt. From the moment we discover we’re having a baby, we’ve done everything we can to protect our children from hurt. So when they fail, it is an instinctive response to want to ease the hurt. We say things in an effort to lessen the hurt in the short-term not realising the damage it can do. We make excuses for their failure – “the judges were biassed, you were clearly better”, “the other kid cheated, you would’ve won otherwise” – and we rob them of their opportunity to learn from it.

Our intentions are good – we think we are helping to protect their self-confidence and their self-esteem. The truth is, in the long run, it only serves to destroy that self-confidence and self-esteem. The best thing we can do is arm them with the skills to learn from these experiences and see the positive in it.


Social Skills

Studies demonstrate that social skills enhance our children’s chances of success. But even though we know that social skills are important – as essential as reading, writing and math – it does not get the same level of attention. Is it because we don’t think it is a problem until children are getting into trouble at school for delinquent behaviour; is it because we think that social skills are something all children eventually learn along the way; or is it because we don’t know how to help them?

Successful Children 21st Century
Source: Quotes Gram

What can we do to help children develop strong social skills? Here are some ideas:

  • Reading literary fiction
  • Play – especially mixed ages
  • Learn Music – music improves communication skills and social interaction. It helps children develop empathy and improve their ability to interpret facial expressions and body language.
  • Neuro-Dramatic Play
  • Mindfulness Meditation – children who were taught mindfulness skills showed a 24% improvement in social behaviors. They were less aggressive and more empathetic and optimistic than peers without the training.
  • Sports – kids who are active in sports have better emotional management and social skills.


Successful Children 21st Century
Source: ProCon

Dysrationalia is the inability to think logically despite having the intelligence to do so. It explains why smart people fall prey to scams. It is usually the result of:

  • poor thinking skills – not having a logical system of thinking through problems
  • lazy thinking skills – skipping steps and leaping to faulty conclusions
  • biases – allowing our personal perspectives to influence our thinking

Often this problem is not detected until adulthood. It is compounded by the fact that many of us are unaware that it exists or that we are prone to such thinking.

The best way to overcome this problem is to ensure that children are taught critical thinking skills from an early age.


Making Learning Count

Successful Children 21st Century
Source: Rohit Sharma

There is a period of study before exams that is called “swot vac” – an acronym for “study without teaching vacation”. During that period, students madly “swat” information to regurgitate during the exams with the desperate hope that it will be enough to pass the year. For some students, this period is the first time they will be reviewing the information they learned during the year. Many students go into a study hibernation where they do nothing but study sometimes even pulling all-nighters in an effort to squeeze that extra little bit of information into their heads that might just turn up on the exam.

This was what I went through when I was in university and it doesn’t sound like a lot has changed since. Given that we now know so much more about learning and studying effectively – the method above is not it – it seems ludicrous that these practices should still be taking place. And yet they are.

“With many students, it’s not like they can’t remember the material. It’s like they’ve never seen it before.” Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis in reference to students moving on to a more advanced class.

Being successful in life requires us to be life-long learners, therefore it seems only logical that we should also be educating children how to learn effectively. The following tactics that help children enhance their learning and overall performance in school and in life should be included as part of their overall education:

Creative Thinking

Successful Children 21st Century
Source: Pinterest

It has been said that creativity is the important quality you can have because being highly creative trumps having a high IQ. We have seen examples how having a high IQ does not make us creative, but being creative can compensate for a lower IQ.

The good news is that there is a lot we can do to encourage creativity. It is also important to remember that:

What are the right opportunities for creative thought?

  • Sleep – when we sleep, our dreams can offer insights into problems we are trying to solve.
  • Down time – taking breaks and daydreaming gives the brain opportunities to work on problems subconsciously.
  • Nature – being immersed in nature increases creativity by 50%
  • Play

More ways to nurture creativity:

Standing Out from the Crowd

Our children may be one of the top students in their school but once they get to university and beyond, they will meet other brilliant individuals who are just as smart or even more so. What differentiates them and helps them stand out from the crowd will be these additional skills they have developed along the way – such as creativity, social skills, the ability to think critically, how well they handle failure, their life-long learning skills, and more. When we think of their education and how to prepare them for life in the 21st Century, we should also be asking ourselves what are we doing to ensure they develop these additional skills.

See also:

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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