I've had thousands of clients from all over the world in my money management business. If you're a good listener, people love to talk about themselves, their families — and, best of all, give all kinds of parenting advice.
Here are seven timeless parenting tips, based on my own experience (I have three children and five grandchildren), and from people who have also raised smart, successful and caring kids:
1. Share your family history.
Kids need to know who they are and where they came from.
My grandfather arrived to Boston, not speaking a word of English, in the late 1880s. He and his friends, living in tenements, worked from the time they were six — heaving coal, sweeping streets and delivering newspapers. He played semi-pro baseball and boxed professionally under the name "Kid Manning." He sang opera.
My children were enthralled with these stories. My grandchildren? Even more.
Tell your kids tales of when you were young, of your parents, of your ancestors — as far back as you can go. Because they will eventually grow up, longing for a sense of connection and identity, and become curious about their past.
2. Be consistent.
If my wife and I had one phrase that we strived to bring to our parenting philosophy, it was to "be consistent."
We didn't give mixed messages. In the cause and effect department, if the penalty for bad behavior was, for instance, "no television on the weekend," we never wavered — no matter the begging, crying or appealing to our need for being loved at all times.
Lose the guilt and try not to make exceptions.
3. Teach them about money, but don't be boring.
Games that promote financial literacy can also teach your kids a lot about life, business and the power of their own observations.
Here's a fun one: Start by explaining to them a bit about the stock market, how companies allow money to grow and prosper, and how they can benefit if they buy shares in the right areas.
Then say, "Almost every product you use or consume has a company behind it that you can buy a piece of. If the company prospers, so can you."
A parent picks a company and pretends to buy it at tomorrow's closing price. The child picks a company based on what he or she loves, like Disney or Mattel.
Then track those stocks for a year, and the person who holds the company with the biggest gain by percentage wins the contest. The loser makes the bed of the winner for three weeks. Or you pick a prize.
If you play this game and get annual reports from the company, both sides will be engaged in discussions about what leads to debt and mortgages, savings and retirement income and other areas you never thought you'd discuss.
I've sampled perhaps a hundred parents with the question, "What's the one most important thing in parenting? Give me a quick answer, the first that springs into your mind."
An actress with two children said, "It's the cleanup. You're going to make mistakes. How you handle the cleanup from these mistakes is what matters."
A former Dean of a major business school told me, "Give them confidence in themselves."
A woman Chair of a New York foundation offered, "Set a good example."
But the most common answer I received is about as simple as it gets: "Listen." It's a good one, too; listening fosters their self-esteem and makes your relationship a safe haven for them.
5. If you're a grandparent, teach them things that their parents don't.
I have a close friend — a successful ceramist and grandmother — who is never shy with her opinions. She has high standards for her family, and often takes no prisoners.
She constantly gives her grandchildren tidbits of her own wisdom that they don't hear from their parents. You may think some of them are useless, but they each plant a seed for lifetime behavior.
Here are just a few:
- "Throw your shoulders back."
- "Sit up straight and don't slouch."
- "Look at the tops of buildings in foreign cities, not just at ground level."
- "Learn how to dance a waltz."
- "Never wear pearls before noon."
- "You are what you read."
- "Only boring people get bored."
Amazing to me, all the grandchildren take in her lessons, seeming to revel in her opinions and eccentricities.
6. Make them think.
I learned this from a grandparent couple. On summer weekends, they invite their children and grandchildren over for dinner at their house near the bay.
Everyone sits at a large circular table. The conversations have to be substantive and everyone has to participate. The grandfather will throw out topics like, "What do you think the role of a vice president of the United States should be?" Or, "What's your all-time favorite book?" Or, "Have you ever had a teacher who inspired you?"
It's almost like a game. Everyone is fully engaged, and they look forward to it. It gives the entire family something special to anticipate.
More importantly, it makes them think.
7. Write them letters.
I've been writing books over the last seven years directed at young people, and I hear from my readers almost every week via text and emails.
But the personal notes sent by snail mail get my attention the most, because it's increasingly a lost art.
If your children are no longer in the house (perhaps they've gone off to college or now have families of their own), send them a handwritten letter once in a while to let them know you are thinking of them.
Not only will these notes be treasured, but they will brighten their day.
John D. Spooner is a wealth manager and best-selling author of several books, including "Do You Want to Make Money or Would You Rather Fool Around?", "Confessions of a Stockbroker," and "No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons to My Grandchildren."
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