8 Things You Should Never Tell Your Kids About Success

In our society, myths permeate beliefs about success. And so, either intentionally or by accident, we might communicate untruths about success to our children. 

Whether by example, or through your words, teaching your child these myths can create unhealthy views of success. But, if you know what some of the most pervasive myths in society are, you can work to make sure your child doesn’t grow up with these inaccurate ideas of success. Instead, you can promote healthier views of success and a more accurate understanding of the role finances and work should play in their lives.

Here are the 8 things you should never tell your kids about success:

#1: Money Equals Success

The idea that money can buy happiness and that it’s a measure of success is a dangerous one. This belief can result in your child toiling away their working years, chasing a dream of wealth to the point that they forget to enjoy other aspects of life. Essentially, believing that money is the definition of success sets up kids to believe that material goods are the main goal in life. On the contrary, it’s best for kids to grow up seeing money as a tool, but not as an end in and of itself.

What’s really important are people, relationships, and experiences. You can teach some of this by setting an example in the way that you spend money in the home. Rather than buying your children lots of toys, spend time together. In addition, talk about and show how you can use money as a tool to help others and meet the family’s needs. 

#2: A Promotion Will Bring You Happiness

Job titles and positions may seem glamorous or exciting. But, they also come with challenges and negatives. Refrain from teaching children that they can only feel successful or happy once they’ve achieved a certain job title. At any level and in any job, you can feel successful and happy with your work, efforts, and many other aspects of your life.

#3: To Succeed, You Must Work All the Time

Many people work hard, putting in long hours and passing up vacation time, in order to get ahead and succeed. But, does all of that hard work really translate into success? Many times, working so hard means that people sacrifice their health, emotional wellbeing, and even their productivity. Studies show that productivity actually drops when you work more than 55 hours a week. Furthermore, working too hard may be associated with burnout which may actually be depression in disguise, robbing you of the happiness you could enjoy if you didn’t work so hard. 

So, while working hard is a good value, it’s important to help children also set up healthy limits and boundaries. You might set an example by always spending one day a week completely disconnected from work. Help children also follow this rule by avoiding doing homework one day a week. In addition, you might set up specific times for children to do chores and homework throughout the week. Then, focus on relaxing and having fun as a family on a regular basis. In this way, you’ll show your child how to prioritize wellness and to take time for things other than work.

#4: A College Degree Will Automatically Bring You Success

There’s nothing wrong with getting a 4-year college or university degree. But, assuming that a degree will automatically get you a great job and lead you down the golden path to success is misguided. While sure, for many, a degree can help young adults get a good job, this is just one possible path that happens to be viewed as safe, or ideal.

However, it’s important to remember that many people achieve success without a degree. For example, Steve Jobs dropped out of college before he founded Apple.

A college degree can put people into a situation of crippling student debt, without much benefit achieved. If someone is very motivated and invested in a career that requires a degree, then it makes sense to pursue it. However, many young people get a degree to tick off a box, without a real sense of purpose. For some of these young people, this doesn’t help them achieve true success.

So, don’t be afraid to explore multiple paths with your child following high school. From trade schools to a gap year, work experience, internships, and more, there are many ways for your child to discover what the next stage of life will hold.

#5: Society’s Definition of Success Is the Only One

If you ever open up a magazine, turn on the TV, or watch videos online, you’ll soon absorb society’s definition of success. Basically, it can be summed up in things like: being skinny, beautiful, and rich, taking expensive vacations, owning a large house, and having the latest technology.

How can you combat this? First, you have to avoid buying into society’s narrow definition of success yourself. Then, you can teach your children to think critically about things like advertising, storylines of TV shows and movies, and more.

Also, make a point to show your children unconventional versions of success in your own life or in the lives of friends, family members, and other role models. For example, you might discuss what makes you feel successful in your life. Whether it’s spending time working on a hobby or enjoying time spent with your family, you can help create other, healthier ideas of what success might look like. But, most importantly, teach your child to be their own judge of success. Teach them not to depend on others to approve, or decide, what success should look like.

#6: Focusing on the Future Will Bring You Success

Conventional understandings of success say you must always be working towards your next big goal. You should constantly strive for the next big thing. While some of this is good, too much can mean you forget to enjoy the present.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the word mindfulness. This practice is associated with success and happiness. In mindfulness, you focus on the present moment. Perhaps it’s enjoying the sweetness of a slice of orange, or noticing the brilliant blue color of the sky. This ability to appreciate the present can lead to long term feelings of contentment and even improved job performance, research shows.

Practice mindfulness and gratitude by talking with your child about everyday pleasures. For example, you can sit together and notice 5 pleasant things around you. Or, you can remember a favorite part of the day. In this way, you can balance thoughts about the future with enjoyment of the present.

#7: Never Give Up

Persistence, determination, and never giving up are key elements for success. After all, Thomas Edison tried thousands of materials before finding the one that would make the lightbulb shine. 

However, strategically "giving up" can also be a valid and intelligent choice. Children should understand that it’s ok to reach a limit where you’re no longer willing to put time into a project, club, or idea. This is especially true if you spend a trial period testing out different types of jobs, clubs, activities, or strategies. It’s a great way to discover how you feel about each of these and whether they’re right for you. But, eventually, you only stick with what works and quit everything else. 

Sticking with something just because you believe it’s bad to give up is unhealthy and unhelpful. A willingness to give up on things you’re not longer passionate about or interested in allows you to put more energy elsewhere.

#8: Believe You Are Better than Everyone Else to Succeed

Self-confidence is a key ingredient for success and happiness in life. However, if you push beyond a healthy self-confidence into a superiority complex, you’re setting yourself up for failure. This complex can lead people to have trouble recognizing their own mistakes or to feel like complete failures when they make an obvious error. 

Parents can help children avoid this myth by helping them develop a growth mindset. With this mindset, children believe that they can change their intelligence and abilities, rather than believing they’re set in stone. This attitude teaches children that they can constantly improve.

In addition, parents can avoid over-praising their kids with evaluative praise. This kind of praise judges the child or their work as “good” or “bad”. However, if you use more descriptive praise, such as, “Wow! You ran so fast,” or “You worked so hard on that!” still sends a positive message without so much judgement. 

The above 8 unhealthy ideas of success can make it hard for your child to feel satisfied and happy with their lives. The unhealthy work and life habits the myths create can make your child feel that their goals are always just beyond their reach. “If I just work a little harder, I’ll get the promotion and be happy...” they might think. Or, “If I just buy that new phone, then I’ll be successful.” These attitudes mean that success is always elusive and just around the corner, but never achieved. 

Instead, we can teach our children that success might look different for each person and that we each find our own meaning in life through relationships with others, enjoying the moment, doing meaningful work, providing for ourselves, and achieving goals.

Practical Step: 

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Here’s to you and your child’s success!