PARENTING in the 21st Century

Evidence-based approach to parentingPARENTING2

“Why did we not know about this before”

has been said to me in over 100 presentations, CPD sessions etc. to Parents, Foster Carers, Childrens Homes, Social Workers etc. that I’ve delivered since 2005.

“I just want to do what’s best for my children”

is what most parents desire yet the extensive evidence that is now available that would help in achieving this is not readily conveyed to them which was one of the main incentives in writing my first book in 2009. My wife came up with the idea for the first book to write it as a novel, rather than a textbook, in the hope that it have a more popular appeal and be read by more parents.

“What do we really need to learn to achieve a healthy, happy, successful life?”

has been central to my research for a long time, when my first child was born in 1983, I was almost 31 years old and had been teaching and researching for about 10 years, so this question became particularly pertinent to me. Whenever I’ve asked this question to many hundreds of parents for many years, they invariably remark, “That’s a good question”, but virtually nobody had ever thought about it before!

I began teaching ‘Personal, Social, Health Education’ in the late seventies and was particularly helpful in studying the background and thinking of children and their parents. I vividly recall being amazed at how difficult it was in trying to obtain scientific research on key information and factors in being an effective parent. I did manage to discover the work of some psychologists that I feel was very important and helpful, which I tried to apply to my parenting and teaching. However, I could find almost no parents or teachers that were familiar with their work or even heard of them, so I decided to extend my research into effective parenting.

My second child (another daughter) was born in 1985, and like Jean Piaget, I carried out a number of experiments with them and observed (studied, researched) them closely. The evidence from my own research and analysing the work of these famous psychologists helped me immensely in the evolution of the 8 skills in the nineties.


Jean Piaget

He is the only psychologist I can recall from my Post-Graduate Certificate in Education in 1973/4 at Leeds Carnegie, possibly because his approach was based on scientific evidence and seemed to ‘make sense’. He was the first psychologist to make a systematic study of cognitive development, emphasising that the way in which a child interacts with their environment is extremely important and that human learning is constructed, like building blocks, by joining one logical thought process with another, his ‘Constructivist Theory’. Consequently it is essential that parents and teachers understand the steps a child goes through in order to develop and provide the learning opportunities for this to occur. Children need to be involved in their environment and create their own understanding of what they experience, since they will personally interpret and process their experience in this environment, they are not ‘a blank slate to be programmed and designed according to a parent’s plan’.

            He had been employed in the 1920s to develop intelligence tests and was intrigued with the reasons why children gave for their wrong answers on the questions that required logical thinking revealing important differences between the thinking of adults and children, proposing discrete stages of development, constructing an understanding of their world by experiencing discrepancies between what they already know and what they discover in their environment.

Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

Sensorimotor (0-2 years) – Knowledge and understanding is acquired through their sensory experiences and manipulating objects developing an understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen. Learning that objects are separate and distinct, children can begin to attach names and words to objects.

Preoperational (2-7 years) – Begin to learn through pretend play, but struggle with logical thinking, taking other people’s points of view and understanding the idea of constancy, believing changing the shape of an object can mean there is more or less of it.

Concrete Operational (7-11 years) – Begin to think more logically, but struggle with abstract and hypothetical concepts. They become less egocentric and begin to think about how other people might think and feel, beginning to understand that their thoughts are unique to them and that not everyone else necessarily shares their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

Formal Operational (11+ years) – Increase in thinking logically, able to use deductive reasoning, and an understanding of abstract ideas. They become capable of seeing a variety of possible solutions to problems and think more scientifically about the world around them.

            Hopefully it is clear that these stages represent the development of cognition, self-awareness and empathy skills, and according to Piaget requires the learner to be active, not passive, since problem-solving skills cannot be taught, they must be discovered.

His research had a big influence on teaching in schools, since it means classroom learning should be ‘student-centred’ and accomplished through active discovery learning with the role of the teacher to facilitate learning, rather than direct tuition (as shown with The Learning Pyramid). I applied this approach in my parenting as well as my teaching, as he encourages the following:

  • Focus on the process of learning, rather than the end product of it.

  • Using active methods that require rediscovering or reconstructing “truths”.

  • Using collaborative, as well as individual activities (so children can learn from each other).

  • Devising situations that present useful problems, and create disequilibrium in the child.

  • Evaluate the level of the child’s development, so suitable tasks can be set.

Abraham Maslow

I did not read any books, have any formal teacher training or attend any courses (apart from Football Association Coaching) until I began the post-graduate (part-time) course into Personal Social and Health Education in the eighties (after ten years of teaching). Therefore, I recall discovering ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’, how it influenced me and being surprised that it was not well known considering it had been introduced in 1943. It introduced to me the term ‘self–esteem’, it also provided me with an important understanding of what motivates us and insight into the development of my children.

            There are five different levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and until the need has  been satisfied we do not move on to the next level (need).

  1. Physiological
    The most basic needs for human survival, such as the need for water, air, food, and sleep.
  2. Safety and Security
    Being and feeling safe and secure, a desire for good health and well-being, safe environment, protection from harm.
  3. Social (Love and Belonging)
    The need for belonging, love, and affection. Feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups, families and intimate partners. This need is especially strong in childhood.
  4. Esteem
    The need to feel respected, accepted and valued by others, including the need for things that reflect on self-esteem, self-respect, personal worth, social recognition, and accomplishment. Deprivation of these needs may lead to an inferiority complex, weakness, and helplessness.
  5. Self-Actualising
    The desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.Maslow (1970) estimated that only 2% will reach this stage.

.          Maslows Hierarchy  This hierarchy helped to clarify key roles for parents, in trying to ensure  which needs of our children are to be satisfied. Like Piaget, Maslow observed that a young child becomes very curious about their environment, wanting to touch everything, putting objects in their mouth etc. and like him I am concerned that parents and teachers inhibit this curiosity rather than encouraging it. Maslow explained that a person must know and understand in order to find purpose and function properly so they can then gain love, esteem, and self-actualization.

A parent who inhibits a child’s curiosity or does not allow him to investigate and interact with his environment will discourage the development that leads to self-actualization. On the other hand, a parent who provides their child with a lot of opportunities to interact and explore will facilitate the satisfaction of needs and help him reach his full potential. Integrating this approach into my parenting teaching and research meant that by the time my children were teenagers I was confident that helping them to develop the 8 skills would result in them achieving self-actualisation and healthy, happy successful lives.

John Bowlby (and Mary Ainsworth)

Another extremely significant and useful research evidence is ‘Attachment Theory’ which John Bowlby originally proposed in 1951 that if a child is to grow up mentally healthy,

 “the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.”                                                  (Bowlby, 1951, p.13).

Having observed children who were isolated from their parents or caregivers (usually mothers) he concluded that children who were deprived of responsive mothers had difficulty with relationships, even into adulthood and a loving, sensitive, responsive relationship with parents will encourage self-esteem, confidence, and independence. He emphasised the importance of social networks and for society to provide support for parents.

“Just as children are absolutely dependent on their parents for sustenance, so in all but the most primitive communities, are parents, especially their mothers, dependent on a greater society for economic provision. If a community values its children it must cherish their parents.”                                      (Bowlby, 1951, p.84)

Mary Ainsworth joined Bowlby a few years later and carried out a number of experiments that helped to refine the attachment theory. She identified different kinds of attachment relationship with the caregiver, and implies different forms of communication, emotion regulation, and responses to perceived threats.

 Secure Attachment.

  • These kids are able to separate from the parent (but they are very upset) and they are happy when parent comes back. They seek comfort (when scared) from the parent.
  • Parents of securely attached children react quickly to their children’s needs and are generally more responsive to their children than the parents of insecurely attached children.
  • Studies have shown that securely attached children are more empathetic during later stages of childhood.
  • These children are also described as less disruptive, less aggressive, and more mature than children with ambivalent or avoidant attachment styles.

Ambivalent Attachment.

  • These children are very suspicious of strangers.
  • They are very stressed when separated from a parent and do not feel safe even after reunited with a parent.
  • Sometimes, child rejects parent by aggression towards him.
  • Later in their childhood these kids might be described as clingy and over-dependent.

Avoidant Attachment.

  • These children avoid parents. It is especially noticeable when parent was absent for some time.
  • Children with an avoidant attachment show no preference between a parent and a complete stranger.

 Disorganized-insecure attachment.

  • Children with a style show a lack of clear attachment behavior.
  • Their actions and responses to parents are often a mix of behaviours, including avoidance or resistance.
  • These children are described as displaying dazed behaviour, sometimes seeming either confused or apprehensive in the presence of a parent.

I was fascinated with the videos of the experiments carried out by Harry Harlow (Harlow’s Monkeys and Mary Ainsworth (The Strange Situation), and how little publicity there seemed to have been for such important research. Clearly, ‘Attachment Theory’ is invaluable to all parents since it helps to explain child and adult thinking and behaviour, and how to be a more effective parent.

Alfred Adler

He is probably the psychologist who I was most impressed with and was one of the first to suggest that birth order influences how our personality develops. He explained that the environment and relationships that the child forms within the family contribute greatly to his/her learning and personality development and their behaviour in the world outside the family. The knowledge, habits, and skills that they acquire in the home greatly influences their capacity for dealing successfully with all life situations. In my opinion, he was outlining (almost 100 years ago) how the 8 skills are developed in our early years within the family environment. 

The interactions of the family members and environment are likely to have a huge effect on the child’s development and Adler’s research on family order helps to provide an understanding of some key factors and behaviours. Maslow’s Hierarchy illustrates that children’s motivations will be physiological, feeling safe and secure, a sense of belonging and esteem needs and they will develop the 8 skills by attempting to achieve significance or even a degree of power within the family, especially in the early years.

Adler emphasises that no two children born into the same family grow up in the same atmosphere (despite parents belief that they were all treated the same) and the en­vironment of each child within the same family may be different because:

  • With the birth of each child the environment and situation changes.
  • The parents become older and may be more experienced or more discouraged (if difficulties with previous child).
  • Of the spacing in years between siblings the total number of children, and the changing circumstances of the parents over time.
  • Children may think, feel and interpret their experiences differently.

We now know that in their first years of life, children are able to learn rapidly (I call them ‘learning machines’) and Adler provides an explanation of how their family environment ­will have a huge impact on their learning of the 8 skills and consequently their thinking, feelings and behaviour. By referring to the key questions relating to the 8 skills we can appreciate why Alfred Adler’s research is so significant for parents.

How well do our children –

  1. Learn and cope with new things? (Effective Learning)
  2. Concentrate and communicate? (Communication)
  3. Understand and solve problems? (Cognition)
  4. Know themself and what to improve? (Self-awareness)
  5. Manage their feelings and behaviour? (Self-management)
  6. Cope with difficulties and setbacks? (Motivation)
  7. Show respect and empathise with others? (Empathy)
  8. Relate and cooperate with others? (Relationship/Social)

             All 8 skills will be influenced by family order, but our skill of self-awareness will clearly be particularly dependent, which is probably the key point that Adler was attempting to convey.

The effect of large families provides the children with an environment and opportunities to develop the 8 skills that smaller ones cannot, especially for empathy and relationship skills. The U.S. seventies TV series, “The Waltons”, is very helpful in illustrating how family order has a huge effect on their development of the 8 skills in a large family. Whenever I have outlined these Alfred Adler’s research conclusions in my sessions, there has been a great deal of agreement and surprise that they were not aware of it before. Leadership-WALTONSparent

Rudolf Dreikurs

In 1972, “A Parent’s Guide to Child Discipline”  by Rudolf Dreikurs and Loren Grey, was published but I have met few parents who have heard of it. Yet his research has greatly influenced many of the parenting experts in recent years.

All misbehavior is the result of a child’s mistaken assumption about the way he can find a place and gain status”                       (Dreikurs, 1968, p. 36).

The most effective way to change the behaviour of people, particularly children, is to use encouragement. The method of encouragement is dependent on the goal, aim or need behind the behaviour or action. As a teacher, I also found this model to be very helpful and it has become widely applied in the last few decades.

Here is a simple outline:

Goal  Child’s Belief
Attention “I count (belong) only when I’m being noticed or getting special service.”                            

“I’m only important when I’m keeping you busy with me.”             

Power “I belong only when I’m boss or in control, or proving no one can boss me.”                                

“You can’t make me.”

Revenge “I don’t think I belong so I’ll hurt others as I feel hurt.”       

“I can’t be liked or loved.”



“I don’t believe I can belong, so I’ll convince others not to expect anything of me.”

“I am helpless and unable; it’s no use trying because I won’t do it right.”   

            In recent years the theories and approach of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs have become very widespread usually under the banner of ‘Positive Discipline’. which (unknowingly probably) provides learning opportunities for the children to develop their 8 skills by

  1. Learning to cope with new situations (Effective Learning)
  2. Listening and concentrating to the adult (Communication)
  3. Understanding the problem and solution (Cognition)
  4. Knowing what to improve? (Self-awareness)
  5. Managing their feelings and behaviour (Self-management)
  6. Recovering from difficulties and setbacks (Motivation)
  7. Showing respect and empathise with others (Empathy)
  8. Relating and cooperating with others (Relationship/Social)

    At the same time, I discovered this poem that supports this approach and I gave posters of it to many of my friends and family.   

            Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte

If children live with criticism,                        They learn to condemn

If children live with hostility                          They learn to fight.

If children live with ridicule,                          They learn to be shy.

If children live with shame,                           They learn to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement,            They learn confidence

If children live with tolerance,                      They learn to be patient.

If children live with praise,                            They learn to appreciate.

If children live with acceptance,                  They learn to love.

If children live with approval,                        They learn to like themselves.

If children live with honesty,                         They learn truthfulness.

If children live with security,                         They learn to have faith in themselves and others.

If children live with friendliness,                  They learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
          Copyright © 1972/1975 by Dorothy Law Nolte

This is the author-approved short version

         Having discovered these pyschologists and their excellent research in the eighties, I then failed to uncover any significant research relating to the science of parenting throughout the nineties. However, at the start of the millennium, in the UK, it changed and since then there has been a huge plethora of research, books, websites and TV programmes relating to the science of parenting.

Child Of Our Time

In the year 2000, in the UK, the BBC began a documentary television series, co-produced with the Open University, to follow the lives of 25 children, born at the beginning of the 21st century, as they grow up over 20 years. Its aim was to build up a scientifically accurate picture of how the biology and environment interact to develop an adult. The series was to involve numerous scientific experiments to explore their development and was the first time I’d observed the television media illustrate the extensive international research into the factors in the development of children.

            In 2006, the 4th (and final) programme of series 6, was titled, “Recipe For Success” and Professor Robert Winston, the presenter for the series, opens with the following statement:

“The most powerful ability humans have is to master new skills”

I think this reflects the essence of the evidence throughout the whole series, I consider it to be an outstanding TV series and the best resource for parents I have so far discovered. If people are aware and understand the 8 skills, “Child Of Our Time” provides them with excellent and easy to follow evidence for it.PARENTING_COOT-2017.jpg

Little Angels, Supernanny etc.

I am very aware that most people are unlikely to read the books that I find so interesting or search out the articles and study the research that I do, therefore I have been delighted to see the TV programmes and websites in recent years that have a much wider appeal.

In 2004, the BBC introduced a documentary-style series, ‘Little Angels’, that aimed to show parents how to overcome common behavioural problems in their children, using experts to observe and offer advice. Each 30 minute programme focused upon the behaviour of a family by observing and discussion of video evidence, followed by coaching the parents from the expert on how to change their own behaviour, which will help to change and improve the child’s behaviour.

Although, the 8 skills were not specifically mentioned, the approach clearly illustrated how developing the skills of the parents (especially cognition, communication, self-awareness, self-management and motivation) were crucial in developing the skills of the children.

The first expert introduced Professor Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist, who became an advisor for the British Government into the potentially harmful effects of both the Internet and video games on children. In 2005 she hosted her own show called ‘The House of Tiny Tearaways, a reality TV style show that put three families experiencing problems into a large, purpose-built house where they are monitored and aided for a week. The 24/7 monitoring provided lots of evidence to analyse and support the parents, which I felt was excellent in illustrating how good development of the 8 skills is central to being an effective parent.

In 2004, in the UK, Channel 4 (a commercial TV channel), introduced ‘Supernanny’, a reality TV programme similar to ‘Little Angels’ with professional nanny, Jo Frost, acting as the coach to parents struggling with their children’s behaviour. The following the USA version of Supernanny began, with Jo Frost as the coach, again the focus was on developing the skills of the parents to influence the learning environment for the children.

A slightly different approach was introduced in 2005, in the UK and 2006 in the USA, with “Honey, We’re Killing the Kids”, in which parents are shown the computer-generated images of what their children may look like as adults if they continue with their present lifestyle. The show follows families’ home lives for a period of four weeks in which the parents attempt to follow the instructions written by experts including a child psychologist, a fitness expert and a dietician. Each week they are coached by the show’s host and given three new targets to help them to improve as parents. This approach again illustrates how the skills of the parents are central to their effectiveness and can be improved with effective learning opportunities.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success                                       

Since I read Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, in 2006, I have repeatedly referred and recommended to parents. A year later, I began showing a video clip of her outlining the essence of her research in which she explains why saying to your children, “You’re so clever”, is so damaging, since it helps to develop a ‘Fixed Mindset’. Hundreds of parents had feedback to me how surprising and useful they found this research.

Fixed Mindset – people believe that their talents and abilities are fixed traits.     They have a certain amount and that’s that; nothing can be done to change it. When people adopt the fixed mindset, it can limit their success. They become over-concerned with proving their talents and abilities, hiding deficiencies, and reacting defensively to mistakes or setbacks-because deficiencies and mistakes imply a (permanent) lack of talent or ability. People in this mindset will actually pass up important opportunities to learn and grow if there is a risk of unmasking weaknesses

Growth mindset – people believe that their talents and abilities can be developed through passion, education, and persistence. For them, it’s not about looking smart or grooming their image. It’s about a commitment to learning–taking informed risks and learning from the results, surrounding yourself with people who will challenge you to grow, looking frankly at your deficiencies and seeking to remedy them. Most great business leaders have had this mindset, because building and maintaining excellent organizations in the face of constant change requires it.

I refer to Carol Dweck’s research again in the section on ‘Teaching’, but it is important that parents appreciate that if they are to help their children develop their skill of motivation they should understand how mindsets and locus of control are formed.

Locus of Control

In the eighties, I discovered the research on locus of control (psychologist Julian Rotter, 1954) which appeared to support my own research that the skill of motivation is central to the success of people and they need to learn to believe that:

‘success is overcoming difficulties’      

‘difficulties are challenges, not excuses’

NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children

by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman was published in 2009, which could be described as

a collection of scientific research challenging many traditional assumptions, of “wishful thinking, moralistic biases, contagious fads, personal history and old (disproven) psychology.” about parenting and child development.

The topics they selected was because they found the research evidence surprised them, contradicting the usual accepted assumptions and practices by most parents, attempting to draw attention to some of the science of parenting.

“small corrections in our thinking today could alter the character of society long term, one future-citizen at a time.”

Each of the ten chapters focuses on a particular conclusion from research evidence, virtually all attempts to improve the development of one of the 8 skills.

Chapter 1: The Inverse Power of Praise – Motivation.

Focuses on Carol Dweck’s research on praising the effort and not the outcome, is much more effective, developing a ‘growth mindset’.

Chapter 7: The Science of Teen Rebellion – Communication and Empathy

What works best is having a few clear rules, if the child has made a good argument for why a rule needs to be changed, then show some flexibility and let that argument influence you in your decision. Parents who let teens make their argument for why the rule should be modified or eliminated are lied to the least

When parents try to be permissive and not have established rules, research shows that “children take the lack of rules as a sign their parents don’t actually care – that their parent doesn’t really want this job of being the parent.” (page. 139)

Carving out an identity that is independent from parents is an important part of their development and going to a parent for help is an admission of weakness.

“Parents with unbending, strict guidelines make it a tactical issue for children to find a way around them.” (page 150).  If the parent then uses the legitimate arguments to make the final decision, teens feel heard and that their independence is respected. “This collaboration retains the parent’s legitimacy.” (pg. 151)

Chapter 8: Can Self-Control be Taught – Self-management

Self-regulation (self-management) has been shown to be a stronger predictor of academic performance than IQ and can be taught (eg. the Tools for the Mind curriculum). Play is viewed as the primary source of self-regulation as well as leading children to higher levels of cognitive development. All activities within the curriculum are designed to promote the development of such underlying skills along with more academic subject matter.

Chapter 9: Plays Well with Others – Relationship

Constructive marital conflict can actually be good for children – if it doesn’t escalate, insults are avoided and the dispute is resolved with affection. This improves their security, emotional well-being and behavior over time

Chapter 10: Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t – Communication

Language acquisition works best when multiple adults say the same word and the child can see the adult saying the word, also when parents respond frequently to the babies words. In ‘object-labelling’, timing is crucial, the word has to be heard just as an infant is looking or trying to grab, or when the parent waits for a baby to naturally be gazing, pointing or vocalizing about the object, following the child’s lead.

To finally see a book that attempts to convey the scientific research on parenting and child development was a great relief after waiting for so many years. However, although they state on pages 6/7, “Small corrections in our thinking today could alter the character of society long-term, one future-citizen at a time.”, there is no mention, explanation or outline of the 8 skills of healthy, happy successful people or similar.

MIND IN THE MAKING: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs        

I can recall getting excited when I discovered this book written by Ellen Galinsky and published in 2010, since it actually mentions skills in the title. Although I try not to use the term “Life Skills” since I have found the term has frequently used in education and the media to describe a huge variety of skills that have not been clearly defined, explained or measured. The introduction in the book does provide a brief outline on the need for skill development (page 1).

“It is clear that children need to learn – facts, figures, concepts, insights, and understandings. But we have neglected something that is equally essential – children need life skills.”

Unfortunately, I could not discover why she chose to use the term, “Life Skills”, but having read this book you will appreciate that the seven skills she identifies have a big overlap with 21st century skills, soft skills, employability skills, intra and interpersonal skills, non-cognitive skills and the 8 skills of healthy, happy, successful people. I would strongly recommend this book to parents, as Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, attempts to convey much of the new science of child development in an understandable way.

I had not been previously aware of Ellen Galinsky, but being a scientist, I was delighted to discover how she had arrived at her conclusions as illustrated in this extract written by her in

“Others have talked about skills for the 21st century before, but eight years and interviews with and filming more than 75 of the leading researchers in child development and neuroscience have led me to new insights about which skills truly have short-term and long-term effects on children’s development–effects now and in the future.

I have concluded that there are seven essential life skills which are incredibly powerful in making children be all that they can be growing up and as adults. They involve what child development researchers call “executive functions” of the brain–the part of the brain that helps us “manage” our attention, our emotions and our behavior in order to reach our goals.

These skills weave together our social, emotional and intellectual capacities. They help us go beyond what we know–and tap our abilities to use all that we have learned in these different areas. It’s important to understand three essential points about these life skills: We as adults need them just as much as children do. In fact, we have to practice them ourselves to promote them in children. We can promote them through our daily activities with children. We don’t need expensive programs, materials or equipment. It’s never too late to help children learn these skills, no matter how old they are.”

            Having spent so many years searching for someone who may also believe that developing key skills is central to preparing children for the 21st century, it was a great pleasure to have discovered Ellen Galinsky’s research and a great relief that her seven skills are not too different from the 8 skills. The seven essential life skills are briefly described and I’ve added which of the 8 skills of healthy, happy, successful people it most closely resembles.

  1. Focus and self-control. This skill allows children to achieve their goals in a world filled with distractions and information overload. It involves paying attention, remembering the rules, thinking flexibly and exercising self-control.       (SELF-MANAGEMENT)
  2. Perspective taking. This goes beyond empathy. It involves figuring out what others think and feel, and it forms the basis of children understanding their parents’ and teachers’ intentions. Children who can take others’ perspectives are much less likely to get involved in conflicts. (EMPATHY)
  3. It’s much more than the ability to speak, read and write. It’s the skill of determining what one wants to communicate and realizing how our communications will be understood by others. It’s a skill that teachers and employers feel is most lacking today. (COMMUNICATION)
  4. Making connections. It’s the core of learning: what’s the same, what’s different. And the ability to make unusual connections is at the core of creativity. In a world where information is so accessible, people who can see these connections will be successful. (COGNITION)
  5. Critical thinking. It is essential for the ongoing search for valid, reliable knowledge to guide our beliefs, decisions and actions. It involves developing, testing and refining theories about “what causes what” to happen.  (COGNITION)
  1. Taking on challenges. Life is full of stresses and challenges. Kids who are willing to take on a challenge (instead of avoiding it) will do better in school and in life.                                             (MOTIVATION)
  2. Self-directed, engaged learning. We can realize our potential through learning. As the world changes, so can we–if we continue to learn for as long as we live.                          (EFFECTIVE LEARNING)

             As Ellen Galinsky points out, the book is for parents and professionals who support them and it’s great strength is in showing that helping children develop these skills ‘simply involves weaving them regularly into everyday activities in school and at home in playful and fun ways.’

I was completely unaware of Ellen Galinsky or her research when I wrote my first book, ‘A Wonderful Life?’, in 2008, but the second half of it, chapters 11 to 21, attempts to outline why these skills are now not commonly being developed.

Chapter 11                    ‘How The Skills Are Learnt’

Chapter 12                    ‘Our technology has exceeded our humanity’

Chapter 13                    ‘Probably The Most Difficult Job In the World’

Chapter 14                    ‘The Incapable Generation’

Chapter 15                    The Family Forum

Chapter 16                    Self-Esteem and Positive Parenting

Chapter 17                    Depression, Mental Health, Self Harm and Suicide

Chapter 18                    Locus of Control And Mindsets

Chapter 19                    Trying To Understand Teenagers

Chapter 20                    Saving Suzi

Chapter 21                    SUPERlearning To Succeed?

However, I was aware of Carol Dweck and her research when I wrote my first book, and I ensured I referred to it.

For over a decade I have been receiving very positive responses from hundreds of parents in my sessions to the following poster (using a circular on the worldwide web) that attempts to explain briefly how the lifestyle and environment in the 21st century developed world restrict our children the opportunities to learn the 8 skills we need to achieve healthy, happy successful people.

Growing Up Learning To Succeed

That which does not kill us makes us stronger”.                                                              Friedrich Nietzsche

Those of us who were kids in the 50’s and 60’s probably think this was how we learn the skills needed to succeed. Although we may have had short term pain it helped us achieve long term gain. Daily news articles and reports illustrate young people today are struggling to achieve long term gain and can’t cope with setbacks and life in general. Perhaps that’s because unlike us we learnt to:

  • Accept that much of our food tasted horrible but was natural and didn’t make us fat.
  • Eat what we were given, because there was no choice.
  • Realise that certain foods were treats because they were rare and special
  • Copy our family by watching and listening to them instead of being bombarded by electronic shapes and noises.
  • Be excited by books when our parents read to us.
  • Tolerate pain by learning to crawl, stand, walk, climb, fall down and fight with our brothers and sisters a lot.
  • Concentrate by our family playing with us instead of leaving us to watch coloured lights on a screen.
  • Enjoy hugging and cuddling because it was how our family showed they cared, and not by being bought stuff.
  • Expect to get what we want would only cause our family to laugh, and getting what we needed was much more important.
  • Be both good winners and good losers otherwise we didn’t get to play games with our family.
  • Listen carefully and speak clearly otherwise our family ignored us.
  • Look after our money and possessions, otherwise we didn’t get any.
  • Understand that work is any activity that we didn’t want to do but had to and if we didn’t help around the house we didn’t get any money or possessions.
  • Solve problems because we experienced loads and although people gave us clues they wouldn’t do it for us.
  • Make good decisions because we made lots of bad ones and learnt from the consequences.
  • Become confident, because our family wouldn’t let us give up.
  • Have initiative and be creative because we had no satellite TV, DVDs, computers, video games or internet.
  • Organise and plan our lives because we had no mobile phones to allow us to leave everything to last minute and keep changing our minds.
  • Be healthy because most us didn’t have cars and had to walk everywhere.
  • Be honest, as dishonesty was almost a hanging offence to my family.
  • Respect ourselves and others because our family continually showed us they cared and considered our thoughts and feelings.
  • Be responsible because we trusted to leave home in the morning and  play all day, as long as we were back before it got dark, with no one able to reach us.

We had the motivation, environment and opportunities to learn, and had the chance to feel success when we did. It didn’t kill most of us and made us strong enough to survive and succeed, perhaps if our children have this chance they may not struggle so much as adults and be unable to cope.

How lucky we were to appear to have so much poverty but actually have so much that matters.

            This poster and my book, ‘A Wonderful Life?’, both explain and emphasise that the learning opportunities for the 8 skills have decreased alarmingly over the last 50 years, and probably accelerated in recent decades. It should now be clear that good development of the 8 skills are now essential to achieve healthy, happy, successful lives in the 21st century, consequently when parents realise this the support they need to prioritise the development and measurement of the 8 skills in our society.