19 Ways to Create Sustaining Success In Your Kids


I went to a talk last week given by Stanford University professor, Denise Pope.

I rarely attend talks these days, finding learning, listening and watching online to be more time efficient.

But I wanted to see Dr. Pope and hear what she had to say.

She was featured in ‘Race to Nowhere,’ a documentary on the pressures of school and success on kids which got a lot of attention in my part of the world.

And she wrote a book, Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students in which she uncovered facts about the lives of teenagers usually hidden from their adults.

Until it is too late.

How did she mine this data?

She posed undercover as a high school student bridging the gap (and having the ear of) parents and teachers and the kids themselves.

A pretty clever feat, if you ask me.

And definitely warrior woman material!

So when I got an invitation to her talk, I decided to go.

The title of her lecture was ‘Sustaining Success For Your Children.’

Now, I have strong but often differing views from many of my fellow moms on what success for my kids looks like.

Having had quite the time of it over the first ten years of their lives, my expectations have undergone some refining of major earthquake proportions over the years. 😉

I hope my kids will grow to be resourceful, self-sufficient, confident, happy adults who are willing to take risks to achieve their goals and stand up for what they believe in.

I’m not too worried what they do as long as they are passionate, it’s legal and doesn’t hurt anyone.

And I could care less about college.

Unless or until they decide it is right for them.

Why we do what we do is much more important than what we do.

In my not-so humble opinion.

And I don’t think we can seriously envisage what our world will be like in another ten years, our culture is moving so fast.

But I hope my kids take advantage of some of the wonderful opportunities that are on offer in the world.

And that may be the college track.

Or it may not.

But the world has moved on from the classic path of high school, university, internship, corporate job etc. that was present in my day.

(And which I bucked even then.)

There are many ways to create an exciting life.

Many of which don’t involve college.

So it was with some interest that I heard from Dr. Pope that most students consider ‘success’  to mean:

  • Money
  • Good grades
  • Good test scores
  • Admission to a good college

That more than 30% of high-schoolers consider homework, “busy work” lacking in relevance and meaning.

That they were getting less than 7 hours of sleep when research shows they need more than 9.

(They shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car with that level of sleep deprivation!)

That only 5% of high schoolers admitted to never having cheated.

High schoolers today, in addition to school time, on average, have 26+ hours of homework and extracurricular activities per week.

And many have much more.

And the result is disengaged, uncreative students who lack the ability to solve problems, who require remediation of basic skills in college and who aren’t prepared with other skills necessary to thrive in today’s workplace, skills such as communication, collaboration, risk taking.

‘Study’ drugs, anxiety, depression are common.

As parents we only have limited influence to change our school’s way of working.

(Although that’s not to say we have none; we should advocate for the type of learning environment in which our children will thrive both on an individual and general basis.)

But there are things we can do to improve the chances of avoiding burnout and nurturing kids who don’t just survive high school and college relatively unscathed from the life-rerouting experiences of drugs, pregnancy, jail or worse.

But thrive.

Here are 19 things, as suggested by Dr. Pope (with the odd emphasis from me,) that you can do improve your family’s chances.

19 Ways to Create Sustaining Success In Your Kids

1. Preserve chunks of unstructured time during the week.

2. Teach your kids how to play during these open free periods. They may lack the skills to occupy themselves with unstructured time, and may soon go ‘I’m bored,’ or “I wanna ‘puter.’ (that’s what they say in my house, anyway.)

3. Negotiate a regular day with your kid’s friend’s moms that you keep free for playdates. Take them to the park and don’t intervene until you see blood. Remind yourself you are nurturing conflict resolution skills. 😉

4. Schedule coursework and extracurriculars very carefully to preserve this unstructured time.

5. If too many extracurricular activities are going on, trim your schedule using a 1-10 ranking.

6. Focus extracurriculars on those activities your child wants to do. (Use this guide: Is it me or my child that is in the car honking the horn and crying that we’re late? If it’s your child – you’re good. If it’s you, you need to rethink.)

7. Allow only a moderate dose of screen time.

8. Monitor kids use of screens – no laptops or TVs in the bedroom. For older kids, keep doors open with open access at all times.

9. Protect and preserve family traditions and rituals. Kids remember the emotions of these memories. Make them good ones.

10. Establish regular family mealtimes. Research showed that the key component to avoiding poor grades, drugs, pregnancies, jail, etc. was having family mealtimes, 5 times a week for 20-25 minutes duration.

11. Include everyone in mealtimes and demonstrate that everyone matters at these times.

12. Unplug yourselves. Yes, you! Be available to your kids. And give them the courtesy of your undivided attention. (Ouch, that hurt!)

13. Use nature as your family group environment and go on family hikes, look at the stars, play together, camp. Research is starting to show the importance of nature in brain development.

14. Love the child before you, not the child you wish they were (or perhaps you were.)

15. Listen to what your child wants and follow their lead.

16. Listen to what your instincts are telling you about your child.

17. Prioritize health and well-being.

18. Model talking and communication skills with your spouse, other adults and with them.

19. Don’t worry about college. There are enough spaces for everyone. Where you go for an undergraduate degree doesn’t impact ‘success’ outcomes. It does matter from where you get a graduate degree but those colleges are pulling students from other schools, not just their own undergrad programs therefore it isn’t necessarily an advantage to get into a ‘good’ school for undergraduate studies.

Lastly, Dr. Pope mentioned some words to gladden my heart – ‘One size does not fit all.

These words are mine –

We are all different – different aspirations, desires, skills.

As parents, we can only hope to treat our kids as individuals who have the right and respect to live their own lives.

Not the ones we wish for them.

And definitely not the ones we wished we’d had.

But didn’t.

You are the conductor, the composer, too.

But your child holds the instrument that brings the music to life.

Let them take the stage.

And allow their interpretation to be heard.

It may be music to your ears.


What do you think? Is this fuzzy-wuzzy liberal thinking? Or sound parenting advice for building resilient families and young people who are ready to handle adulthood when the time comes? Let me know in the comments!

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

September 27, 2011 at 10:17 am

I think you are spot-on!!! Valuing our children for who they really are (rather than who we wish them to be) is fast becoming a lost skill.


Alison Golden September 27, 2011 at 10:20 am

Hey Lori! I think projection can be a big problem for some parents, it can be obvious, or it can be subtle but picked up on by the kids at some level. Something to really watch out for…


Mary E. Ulrich
September 27, 2011 at 10:22 am

Great list. Love “#15. Listen to what your child wants and follow their lead.”

I’ll have to learn more about Denise Pope, but I love the idea of going undercover in the HS. What a great opportunity to see things from a different POV.

Those earthquakes are not just in California. I think each of us has changing ideas of what makes “success” or a person successful for both ourselves and our children.

Moms–even warrior women–just want our children to be happy. But we put so much into our parenting, that we often see our “success” as interdependent on their “success” and happiness.

Alison, I think it is wonderful you take advantage of lectures and programs in your community. You are an inspiration and teach us about “life-long learning.” Thanks.
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Alison Golden September 27, 2011 at 10:25 am

You make a very good point, Mary. We have to separate our success from their success. We don’t always do that. And it gets even worse sometimes when we are used to having a big career and transfer our work skills onto our kids and they become our “work.” In some ways they are, and that’s appropriate but we need to know where to draw the line between us and them. Thank you for your insightful comment, luvvie! 🙂


September 27, 2011 at 11:34 am


I need this book! I feel the strain of my relationship with my son. He just turned 13 and I don’t know where my little boy went. I think we both need some guidance into the teen years.

Amazing post! I was going to print the list but I think I may grab the whole book instead!

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Alison Golden September 27, 2011 at 11:37 am

Thanks, Allie!

Yes, those little boys, huh? Mine are still here but I know their days are numbered…:-(


September 28, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I love this advice. I like that the emphasis is on what the child wants and actually helping them to experience a true childhood with play and nature rather than just pushing them to be robots. Great post.
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Alison Golden September 29, 2011 at 8:38 am

Hi Charise:

I was introduced to child-led parenting when my kids were very little. It was such a relief. I wasn’t brought up that way and my kids were very intense and determined to do things their way. So learning there was another way other than imposing my will on them took all the stress away. I’ve never looked back. That’s not to say I don’t crack the whip sometimes but with interests and some personal characteristics, it is much easier to go with the flow and more effective in the long run.


September 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm

The overscheduling of kids and the parents who then complain about it is a big pet peeve of mine. Really, you’re run ragged by all the extracurriculars and activities YOU signed your child up for? And who is it really for and about? I betcha 9 times outta 10, it’s about the parents and what they think this will get their child on down the road (i.e., college, a good job, money). No wonder so many kids are depressed!

I just hope I can raise happy kids who have enough self confidence to follow where their happiness leads them!
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Alison Golden September 29, 2011 at 8:41 am

Hi Beth:
I’ve never been one for lots of activities either. I couldn’t stand the battles and schlepping back and forth. It’s exhausting! I do feel a bit sad when my kids have no-one to play with though because all their friends are at something.


Bibi September 29, 2011 at 6:40 am

I think it’s spot on. When my son turned 14 we went through very tough time for 6-7 months and we just didn’t see eye to eye and didn’t really like being around each other.I had to re-think my whole approach and I noticed that me and the way I treat him might be the biggest problem. I went through drastic changes with the result of keeping it positive, honest and open. Concentrating on his good qualities, preparing and having dinner together, having him on a schedule and enforcing it…..and many of the things you mentioned here. Last two months have been wonderful and for the first time in I love being a mom of a teenager.
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Alison Golden September 29, 2011 at 8:42 am

Oh, that’s interesting, Bibi. We’ve had some very rough times with one of my guys and now we’re through it, I’m hoping that we’ve already done the teenage thing because we had to adjust our parenting so much.


Ross September 29, 2011 at 10:03 am

What an interesting article! I think society puts way to much pressure on our kids into what they have to be. It takes away from them being themselves and expressing who they are. I believe as a parent that my child shouldn’t be programmed. As parents we need to take more of a back seat but at the same time be there to direct or help lead our kids. Of course you set boundaries and parent your child but we need to listen to our kids instead of telling them who to be or what to do.


Alison Golden September 29, 2011 at 12:48 pm

You nailed it, Ross. Exactly!


Leigh Ann
September 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Very sound advice. I especially like the suggestion for the parents to unplug. I know I have a hard time doing it, even trying to get through my reader on my phone when we’re in the car. But it’s important for our kids to see that family time is more important than all the blogs I have to read. 🙂
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Alison Golden September 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm

It is hard, isn’t it? I’ve resisted an iPhone for that very reason although I have been known dig my husband in the ribs if not snatch his out of his hands when I feel it is, you know, “TIME!” 🙂 I can be bad at bedtime. The office is next to the bathroom and 11 yo boys cannot be trusted to clean their teeth. So I get on my laptop with one eye on the bathroom, yelling out occasionally a reminder to “GO CLEAN YOUR TEETH!” but I’m not sure that’s the best way. Standing over them undistracted might be more effective…KWIM? 😉


Wendy September 30, 2011 at 4:51 am

This is a great blog.. You should support your kids talent and failures makes him strong.. Have faith in your child..
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Alison Golden September 30, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Yes, they know which way is up, don’t they? 🙂


Kristl Story September 30, 2011 at 7:24 pm

So, so true! Adult conversations these days revolve around which college our kids got into, and how much of a scholarship they received!
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Alison Golden October 9, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Ugh. That sounds monumentally horrible, Kristl.


October 1, 2011 at 7:15 am

That sounds like one dynamic speaker. I must get that book. Oh, Alison, I can’t imagine the added stress you feel as a parent in your part of the world. Gawd-and not like Stanford isn’t an esteemed institution, but I’m wondering how many local elementary schools go to field trips there…

It’s funny b/c my son (10 y/o) is already talking about whether he’ll attend Georgetown or Oregon State (where father went). Obviously, there’s some serious adult pressure behind that, and it ain’t comin’ from the psychotherapist. That’s so true–there’s enough slots for everyone. We have so much pressure in our tiny public school system about test scores, and achievement. It’s really hard not to get caught up.

These are fabulous suggestions listed. I just wish I wasn’t so guilty of #12…it’s like I’m addicted to the ‘puter, on something.

A while back I vowed not to be plugged in during the hours of 5-7 pm during the week. Like most well-intended habits, it fell by the wayside.

Love #15–it’s about your kid’s childhood and not your unresolved one.
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Alison Golden October 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm


You are the queen of the one-liners – “it’s about your kid’s childhood and not your unresolved one.” Amen!


Erin October 2, 2011 at 11:08 am

What a wonderful post. I know my Samantha is only 16 months old but I think of her future often and plan on helping her succeed in any/every way possible!
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Alison Golden October 2, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Thanks, Erin! And you can’t start too soon with this child-led thing in my opinion. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂


Shiaa October 3, 2011 at 11:39 am

A great read. Really. The best ways so far. And i think the one with the family meals is the most important. You gotta respect your family, always. Great blog. Keep it up.
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