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What Makes for a Great Childhood?


I blog a lot about adverse environments in child-rearing, but what makes for a great childhood is equally as important. This blog is as much for those of you who still blame yourselves for your lack of success or happiness as for those thinking about how to parent future generations. According to “Children Are More Likely to Succeed If They Live in this Type of Environment”, parents can go a long way toward ensuring their progeny’s success.

The main ingredient, according to the article, is positive connection, based on these categories: care, support, safety, respect and participation. If you’re thinking about your own childhood, how did things measure up? Did you feel physically and emotionally safe and well cared for? Did you receive adequate and age-appropriate support? Were your opinions and needs respected and did family members treat each other respectfully? Was there a strong sense of belonging in spite of individual differences?

The article stresses that how both strengths and weaknesses were treated is important. This means that your parents (and other relatives) encouraged your strengths but also helped you overcome your weaknesses. One interesting point is how important it is for parents to help children find purpose in life. This can be done by parental modeling as well as support of their children’s interests and talents.

Success does not come only from what your parents do for you, but the environment in which it is happening. “The highest scores in both family connection and flourishing came from children who said they live with both parents, have enough food or never have their family worrying about finances.” Class, race, and other social factors can undoubtedly make it more difficult for parents to be effective even when they’d like to be. Remember, we do not grow up on an equal playing field. If there isn’t enough food for proper nutrition, if money is tight, and if you don’t grow up in a stable, predictable environment, you might have missed out on some of what children need to flourish.

One vital factor is feeling a strong, positive bond with parents. For example, I remember watching my father at his workbench in our basement, even when I was too young to help him. There was a sense of me being part of his world and what he was doing, that he was teaching me something though I didn’t know what. I also recall my parents and I sitting in our living room each reading: my mother, a novel; my father, the daily newspaper; me, some school book or perhaps a Nancy Drew mystery. These kinds of moments are unremarkable, but powerful, and help foster well-being.