As a psychologist and consumer of pop culture (and popcorn!), I love borrowing from unlikely sources to inspire those “aha” moments that help children and families. ABC’s Shark Tank, a personal favorite in my go-to TV line-up, is one of those sources. It’s a show where brave entrepreneurs lay it all on the line for approval, mentorship and yes, even money, to propel their biggest dreams. So maybe you’re thinking, sure, my kids come to me for money, but where are you going with this?
Bear with me. Here’s my pitch.
Children crave and require unconditional love. They need to know you love, accept, and support them, no matter what, even when their ideas, dreams and behaviors don’t make a lot of sense to you, or you’re certain their strategies will fail. So what can the sharks in business teach you about raising confident children at home? Here are 4 strategies inspired by the tank.
- Avoid the whole “you’re dead to me” shtick: It probably goes without saying that Kevin O’Leary’s classic line, “you’re dead to me,” spewed when an entrepreneur fails to see the world from his perspective, is to be avoided. Your child will disagree with you at some point or another—that’s part of growing up. When disagreements happen, avoid pulling rank with no room for discussion. Collaborative problem solving is always better than “because I said so” solutions, but you may need to wait until you and your child are in a calmer place. True, as an experienced authority you may know best, but let your child speak, then offer your perspective in a way your child understands. A compromise you are both happy with may be possible.
- Lean in and listen: If you’re like me, watching body language is an intriguing part of the Shark Tank experience. Billionaire Mark Cuban leans in, head slightly cocked, when he is listening intently. Offer your child the same courtesy when a question is asked or a request is made. Listen intently—even if you know the request might not be granted—rather than leaning back and saying, “I’m out.” Full attention signals respect, and a calm explanation, with some alternatives, is far more loving and respectful than swift, all-or-none decisions.
- Set goals but be realistic: Inventor, multi-patent holder, and “Queen of QVC,” Lori Greiner, sets her sights high for herself and any entrepreneur. Often during a pitch, she’ll scribble an incredibly high number on a pad of paper, turn the pad around, and profess that the amount shown is what the entrepreneur will make in the first month on QVC. In Lori’s case, based on experience, she never underestimates what she can do for her client. But what about you and your child? It’s great to set goals for your children; goals show you believe in them. But be realistic or you risk being unfair and applying too much pressure. Sure, you can tell your child that practice on the soccer field, or in math class, will improve skills. Encouragement nurtures a will to embrace challenge. But statements like, “you’ll be the next Beckham,” or “you’ll win the Nobel Prize” can create feelings of failure if the statistically improbable doesn’t happen. Be hopeful but fair, and set fun, realistic goals together.
- Remember to say “I love you”: Okay, you won’t hear “I love you” too often on Shark Tank—or maybe not at all. But real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran is known to invest in people, and she’ll often point her finger at an entrepreneur and say, “I like you.” Typically, that liking leads to a deal and an effective working relationship. Remember to tell your children you love them, in words and deeds. Liking is good for a productive business, but loving is essential for a happy and confident child.
To learn more about collaborative problem solving, read The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene. His website, www.livesinthebalance.org, also offers ideas and strategies for raising happy, confident children.
Dr. Brenda S. Miles, C.Psych. is a clinical pediatric neuropsychologist and award-winning author. Her blog, Psych 4 Thought, explores topics in psychology and psychiatry and offers 4 strategies for parents and teachers to try at home and school. At The Possibilities Clinic, Dr. Miles offers psychoeducational and neuropsychology assessments, memory and executive functioning intervention for children and teens, and consultation for parents and teachers.