To all the parents out there who want happy & successful kids – you might want to review what you’re doing!

To all the parents out there who want happy & successful kids – you might want to review what you’re doing!

via Quartz by Emma Seppala

Most parents want their kids to be successful in life—and so we teach them attitudes that we believe will help them achieve their goals. But as I learned while researching my book The Happiness Track, many widely-held theories about what it takes to be successful are proving to be counterproductive.

Sure, they may produce results in the short term. But eventually, they lead to burnout and—get this—less success. Here are a few of the most damaging things many of us are currently teaching our children about success, and what to teach them instead.

What we tell our kids: Focus on the future. Keep your eyes on the prize.

What we should be telling them: Live (or work) in the moment.

It’s hard to stay tightly focused. Research shows our minds tend to wander 50% of the time we’re awake. And when our minds wander, we often start to brood over the past or worry about the future—thereby leading to negative emotions like anger, regret, and stress.

A mind that is constantly trying to focus upon the future—from getting good grades to applying to colleges—will be prone to greater anxiety and fear. While a little bit of stress can serve as a motivator, long-term chronic stress impairs our health as well as our intellectual faculties, such as attention and memory. As a consequence, focusing too hard on the future can actually impair our performance.

Children do better, and feel happier, if they are learn how to stay in the present moment. And when people feel happy, they’re able to learn faster, think more creatively, and problem-solve more easily. Studies even suggest that happiness makes you 12% more productive. Positive emotions also make you more resilient to stress—helping you to overcome challenges and setbacks more quickly so you can get back on track.

It’s certainly good for children to have goals they’re working toward. But instead of always encouraging them to focus on what’s next on their to-do list, help them stay focused on the task or conversation at hand.

What we tell our kids: Stress is inevitable—keep pushing yourself.

What we should be telling them instead: Learn to chill out.

Children are feeling anxious at younger and younger ages, worrying about grades and feeling pressure to do better at school. Most distressingly, were even seeing stress-induced suicides in children—especially in high-achieving areas like Palo Alto in Silicon Valley.

The way we conduct our lives as adults often communicates to children that stress is an unavoidable part of leading a successful life. We down caffeine and over-schedule ourselves during the day, living in a constant state of overdrive and burning ourselves out—and at night, we’re so wired that we use alcohol, sleep medication, or Xanax to calm down.

All in all, this is not a good lifestyle to model for children. It’s no surprise that research shows that children whose parents are dealing with burnout at work are more likely than their peers to experience burnout at school.

I recommend that parents consider teaching their children the skills they will need to be more resilient in the face of stressful events. While we can’t change the work and life demands that we face at work and at school, we can use techniques such as meditation, yoga and breathing to better deal with the pressures we face. These tools help children learn to tap into their parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system (as opposed to the “fight or flight” stress response)…

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