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Answer by Julie Lythcott Haims, author, New York Times best-seller How to Raise an Adult; former Stanford dean; Getting In podcast host:
Love them and make them do chores. Seriously.
You see, one of the longest longitudinal studies of humans ever conducted—the Harvard Grant Study—found that professional success in life comes from having done chores as a child, and the earlier the kid started, the better. Being able to roll up your sleeves and pitch in, being able to do the unpleasant tasks without being asked, being interested in contributing one’s effort to the betterment of the whole—that’s what gets you ahead in the working world.
Intuitively, it makes sense. But with our kids oh so busy with the academics and extracurriculars, often we absolve them from having to do any of the work around the house. They become young adults in the workforce still waiting to be told what to do next, lacking the impulse, the instinct to look around to see how they can be useful, anticipate what colleagues or a boss might need, think a few steps ahead, pitch in. Chores are more important than endless test prep, in my view.
The Harvard Grant study also found that happiness in life equals love. Not love of work but loving relationships with humans—partners, spouses, kids, family, friends. Our kids need to be loved unconditionally in the first place they know—home—so they can love themselves and then go out into the world and have the capacity to love and be loved.
When they come home from school or we come home from work, we need to put down our technology and look them in the eyes and let them see the joy that fills our faces upon seeing our precious child. Sure, we’re dying to know how they did in that math test, but what we need to ask is: How was your day? What was good about today? and to take an actual interest in whatever they say. They want to know they matter to us. They want to feel loved for who they are, not for their GPA.
The final thing we can do is be a good role model of a healthy, vibrant adult. I’m not surprised so many young adults are “failing to launch”—we’ve made adulthood look so very unattractive. We’ve shown them that all adults do is obsess over kids and stand on the sidelines of kids lives with our coffee drinks.
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