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How Can We Raise the Next Generation of Dreamers?

Today I want to share one of my biggest dreams with you.

It’s my dream for my children.

My two little ones are incredibly enthusiastic, intensely curious, joyfully exuberant, and keenly interested about their world.

And I never want that to end.

I want them to continue exploring the world around them, learning and growing all the while. Most of all, I want them to believe in the value of their own hard work. I want them to know that they are capable of building a life that they’ll love, and that they shouldn’t settle for anything less.

I don’t know what shapes those lives will ultimately take–because they are not mine to live. But I pray that they are lives full of big dreams.

I suspect that you have similar dreams for a young person in your life. When you look at her, you see such tremendous potential, and you want nothing more than for her to live into that potential to become her best self.

None of us can live another person’s life for them, nor should we ever try. But there are a few ways that we can equip the next generation of dreamers with tools and skills to help them find success.

Embrace the Season of Exploration

“Passion” has become something of a controversial word lately.
This New York Times blog post from last April went so far as to suggest we are harming our kids with the pressures we place on them to specialize early.

Whether you agree or disagree with that columnist’s point of view, it does seem clear that some of us have lost our sense of perspective on the “purpose” of childhood. When every single decision is believed to be absolutely critical to a child’s college admission and ultimate career, things are seriously out of balance, right?

This season of exploration in a young person’s life is not wasted time. And it’s not just a phase to get through on the path to finding her passion.

Encourage a child to draw connections and find the commonalities between her varied interests. Help her to define the story she ultimately wants her life to tell. And help her to recognize the difference between leaving something behind to explore a new interest…and giving up because the work feels too hard to her.

The Company We Keep

It turns out that your mother was right when she told you to hang out with the “right” crowd.

We are each defined by the company we keep. And not just because of the way others see us. But also because of the way we see ourselves.

Over two decades ago, Jim Rohn, the author of The Art of Exceptional Living, wrote, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

So what does that look like in the age of social media, smart phones, and 24/7 access to the Internet?

I bet your first thought was: scary.

But the scariest places can often present the best opportunities to teach. And it starts by teaching a girl to ask one simple question when considering the company she keeps: Does spending time with this person help me to be my best self?

Give a girl this measuring stick, and she can apply it to friendships and “friend”-ships both in real life and on social media.

If you want to help a girl live into her big dreams, then one of the best things you can do is encourage her to surround herself with other dreamers. That can take many forms, from an after-school club to an online community to a tight group of classmates.

But in the end, it always looks the same. It’s a group that inspires a girl to stretch beyond her comfort zone. They support her when she struggles. And they celebrate her accomplishments as a shared victory.

Developing a Growth Mindset

In her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck opened a window into the way that successful people think.

Her research indicated that each of us–consciously or not–views intelligence and ability either as a fixed quantity or as a capacity that can be developed or grown over time.

A girl with that “growth” mindset is more likely to view challenges and setbacks as chances to learn and improve. And she is less likely to see failures as a negative reflection on her worth as a person.

But here’s the most important finding from Dr. Dweck’s work. The things you do and say can subtly shape a child’s mindset without even knowing it. There’s a world of difference between: “Correct answer. You’re so smart!” and “Correct answer. Your hard work is really paying off!”

If you want to change a girl’s relationship with her future, then don’t talk to her about her qualities, her attributes, her talent. Talk about her goals, her dreams, and her capacity to make them happen through her own hard work and persistence. Praise her determination, her bravery, her curiosity…all in service towards a larger goal.

And help her to get out of the habit of comparing herself to others by fostering a healthier alternative. Encourage her to compete with her past self to set new personal records.

Learn By Doing

By encouraging a hands-on approach to learning, you have the ability to make a lesson more meaningful and more memorable. All it takes is a little bit of creativity to figure out an activity that can make a concept more tangible.

Hands-on learning helps address the number one complaint of every student faced with something difficult. “Why is this relevant to me? I’m never going to use this!”

Which approach seems more effective to you? You can explain how a girl might hypothetically use the Pythagorean Theorem in a possible career she might have in some distant future. Or you can help that girl use the Pythagorean Theorem to construct a structurally sound, no-brothers-allowed privacy alert for her door…today.

This skill helps build upon some of the others as well. It functions like a positive feedback loop as a child explores, builds, applies, tests, and identifies the next opportunities for growth.

The Secret Is…There Is No Secret

Despite what countless parenting books may suggest, there is no secret formula for ensuring your child’s success. The best you can do is to lay a foundation that will enable her to successfully build according to her own big dreams.

Help your child to develop a success-oriented mindset. Provide her with hands-on opportunities to explore her interests. And encourage her to cultivate a community that will challenge her as much as it supports her.

Let her dreams be her own, but give her the tools to bring that dream to life.

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