7 Tips for Raising Exceptional Kids
Becoming a parent gives your life a new purpose, and immediately becomes your life’s work, even if you don’t recognize that on day one. In many ways, the job of raising your offspring is the most important, challenging, and potentially rewarding work you’ll ever do. Bookstores are filled with volumes of advice for new parents, and I read my share of them, but I found experience to be the best teacher. The following 7 tips are based on actual life experience. Not all of them were pre-planned, as life forces you to make some decisions on the fly. Not everyone will be able to follow these principles, as each family has unique circumstances. It takes hard work, commitment, and sacrifice in order to implement what I describe below. I cannot guarantee that you will succeed, of course, but I know that by choosing to take these steps, my baby boys grew up to become exceptional young men.
1. Nurse your baby for as long as you can.
The benefits of breastfeeding your child are numerous, both for mother and baby, and the longer you continue to nurse your baby, the greater the results. The mother-child bond that nursing facilitates is critical for newborn babies to thrive. Mother’s milk is nature’s perfect baby food, by design. There is no better start to your child’s development than to provide the ultimate nutrition for mind and body. It takes work and a lot of devotion to keep going, and some people will attempt to betray your efforts. Mothers need to know they are supported without question. I was my wife’s biggest cheerleader when it came to nursing our boys. Each one was breastfed for approximately two years, which seemed to be a perfect duration for mother and child, and provided an awesome foundation for their future.
2. Be your child’s primary caregiver.
It’s almost automatic these days to sign up for a spot in daycare when you have a due date. The early years of your baby’s life are crucial for healthy development. One parent should stay home with them for as long as possible to provide the tender loving care they need. Babies who are cared for by family almost always receive more attention than those in daycare, which stimulates their young brains and accelerates learning capability. No one else loves a baby as much as his or her mother and father, and parents instinctively know what is best for a child. It requires a great deal of dedication and sacrifice to make this happen. I know because I made those sacrifices with my wife, and we lived on one income for 10 years in order to know that our babies were being cared for in the best possible way.
3. Read to your child every day.
Before your baby has any concept of books, words, or language, you need to be reading to them. Chunky books with 9 or 10 pages of brightly colored pictures and big letters are perfect to start with. Read aloud often, and engage them in the story so it becomes a part of them. Establish a daily routine where reading with your child is a priority, and make it fun for them. Language and reading are the foundation for all other learning, and the sooner your child understands the connection between them, the faster she will begin to build connections in the brain that make advanced learning possible. As your children grow, allow them to select books that are interesting, fiction and non-fiction. Make frequent trips to the library or bookstore so you can keep a variety of new content. Set a good example by reading in front of your kids, and show them that it’s enjoyable for adults, too. I can’t stress enough how important reading is to your child’s future.
4. Homeschool your child for at least three years.
This sounds difficult to many of you, I’m sure. I know it can seem daunting to consider teaching your child things they would otherwise be learning at school. It’s not as hard as it appears, especially now that the Internet has countless resources available to help you. Three years is just a suggestion; more is better, but unless you are a teacher already, you eventually reach a point where the curriculum becomes too much for an average parent to handle. Consider this: homeschooling frees your family from the typical routine that traps most families. Instead of being forced to vacation only during the summer, you can go in April and/or October, and use it as a learning opportunity. Take field trips whenever you get the chance; everywhere you go there is an opportunity to learn about something. Visit museums, aquariums, parks, zoos, or any place that can inspire learning. There are dozens of online support groups where you can seek out other homeschooling families, and arrange to go on outings together, or just get together for social interaction and playtime. Just because you’re homeschooling doesn’t mean your child will be isolated. Trust me — you will treasure the memories of the time you were able to invest in your children.
5. Use technology as a learning tool.
From the time my kids could sit by themselves and hold a mouse, they were using the computer. They had special time slots allocated for it, and it was a treat for them, but they were also learning, because the games that we allowed them to play were educational. It is essential for younger generations to become comfortable with technology, because it will be an integral part of their lives from now on. The problem with most kids and the availability of screen time is that it tends to be used as a babysitter. The responsible use of technology, paired with content that is appropriate, is a valuable tool in your child’s development.
6. Allow your child to attend private school.
This may be the toughest decision to make, but it could be one of the most important. After you have finished your homeschooling years, why would you want to ruin all that good work by taking a step backwards? After a few years of being taught at home, my kids were ahead of their respective grade levels by at least a year. Going back to a public school environment probably would have left them bored and disinterested. I attended public school my entire childhood; public schools are not what they once were, and while I respect teachers for the jobs they do, I do not believe that children in public school are necessarily prepared for academic success. In the right private school environment, children are encouraged to do well, because intelligence is rightly considered to be “cool.” There is competition to succeed, and the smart kids are not insulted or called names, but are celebrated and held up as examples of excellence. My children’s tuition was more than my house payment, but I valued the investment in them more than anything else.
7. Tell your child that there is no limit to his or her potential.
When my sons reached their junior years in high school, and it was time to look at potential college selections, we could have limited the choices to those schools that we could realistically afford. Instead, they were encouraged to think big, think outside the box, and go for the gold. We weren’t sure that my son would be accepted to Johns Hopkins University, but if he hadn’t applied, it wouldn’t have been an option. Five years later, he has graduated from JHU with a Masters in Computer Science. If you limit your child’s potential right out of the gate, you will never know what they might have accomplished. Worried about the cost? You will find that a lot of prestigious universities are about as affordable as state schools, once you take into account the grants and scholarships that are available.
Don’t let your inability to do some of these things discourage you. You can still make a big difference for your kids if you only use some of my tips. If you do nothing else, take my advice and follow steps 1 and 2 for as long as possible. The income you forego by staying at home with your baby is offset by the reduction in the cost of daycare, and you can never get back the “firsts” that you will likely miss when someone else is caring for your baby. Your child’s future is worth the hard work that it requires to give them the best chance at success in this world. You will feel a great sense of satisfaction when you see their dreams come to fruition!