Experts Link Kids’ Success (or Lack of) Directly to Parental Approach

Pam Hardy did not find it easy to say no to her sons when she was raising them. Like many parents raising children today (and very much unlike the parents who raised her), Hardy sold herself out and bought into a dominant cultural trend that seduces parents into actually believing it is more important to be liked by their children than it is to hold them accountable for their own actions.

“The word no by itself seemed too harsh,” Hardy defends. “I believed I could create a utopia at home and one way of doing that was to try to manipulate outcomes by using a friendlier approach. I could offer these children who were looking for clarity the logic behind why no was best. In the end, the message I sent left them bewildered—a no magically was translated into a yes.”

Flying in the face of our culture’s focus on having good relationships with our kids, is the truth-over-harmony philosophy of parenting experts Laura and Malcolm Gauld, award-winning authors of the book The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have (Scribner) and The Biggest Job Workshops, the popular national seminars on effective parenting that emerged from it.

“Many parents measure the effectiveness of their parenting in accordance with how they feel about the current state of their relationship with their child,” explains Laura Gauld. “So, as a first lesson, choose: Do you want to be liked, or do you want to be respected?”

According to the Gaulds, choose the former and you’ll end up with neither. Choose the latter, and you’ll end up with both. Furthermore, say the Gaulds, your children end up with a false sense of security and little to no skills to cope with the challenges they will face in the “real” world.

“Good parenting demands that we sometimes put the relationship at risk,” says Malcolm Gauld. “Or to put it another way, the strongest relationships are those resting on a foundation of principles. When we veer from that we often fall into the trap of trying to make our children feel good by fixing everything that goes wrong in their lives and then sending the message that they are unable to face and survive difficulties on their own.”

Hardy concurs with the Gaulds. “I was working overtime, tap dancing to the tune of harmony when I should have trusted in the wisdom of past generations. Providing the best guidance for my children by firmly and confidently defining boundaries for them and the family principles that were grounded in those boundaries no matter what they thought of me. I ultimately robbed them of the very confidence in their own abilities I thought I was invested in instilling in them.”

The Gaulds teach those principles through what they call THE 10 PRIORITIES — a collection of guiding concepts that the Gaulds say are not always so easy for parents to embrace, but which produce positive lasting results. They explain them here:

We all want honest families. We also want everyone to get along. Which do we want more? This priority calls upon parents to put the weight of the foot on the side of truth.

We tend to apply rules when things are starting to spin out of control. (e.g., example, “There is no eating in THAT room, either!”) Rules must be guided by deep principles.

Schools, families, and society, in general, would be much healthier if we valued attitude over aptitude, effort over ability, and character over talent. Parents often send the message that successful outcomes are more important than honest efforts.

Discipline alone will not properly raise our children. We need to aim high with our expectations and resist “lowering the bar” when we sense that our children are having difficulty achieving success. Letting go of the outcome allows our children to take responsibility for their actions.

Today’s parents have a hard time letting their children fail. Success is important, but failure can teach powerful lifelong lessons leading to profound personal growth.

We can get caught up in trying to “fix” our children’s problems (e.g., disagreements with their teachers, coaches, etc.) instead of seeing the potential for positive learning opportunities.

It is hard to watch our children struggle with life’s challenges. When should we step in? When should we step away? This is one of the toughest parenting dilemmas.

This priority can help parents create an atmosphere of character in the home through the application of a three-point plan: a daily job, a weekly family meeting, and a concept called “mandatory fun.”

While parents focus on helping their children, many avoid asking others for help. Consequently, they raise children who do not ask for help.

Regardless of what they might say or do, children share a deep yearning to be inspired by their parents. Ironically, we will not inspire our children with our achievements. We best inspire them when we share our struggles, reach for our best, and model daily character.

The Gaulds explain that once parents move beyond the rewards-and-bribes parenting of smaller children, the playing field changes. You can buy good behavior–for a while–but you cannot buy good character. And character is what your pre-teen and teens will be seeking. As the child changes, so must the approach to parenting.

For Hardy, who is now the director of the Gauld’s parenting workshops, the 10 Priorities became a roadmap to what she believes was her best parenting and eventually one of her greatest accomplishments in life–“raising good, decent human beings who understand they are responsible for their own success.”

“Once I saw the connection between how my strongest impulse to protect my children from all harm was actually hurting their chance for success, I let go of my need to have a relationship with them,” Hardy says. I had to trust my deeper instincts to believe in their best and to show that by holding them accountable for their own actions.”

In the Gauld’s three decades of experience in education and parenting, they have found that exceptional parenting is hard, doable, and never too late–and that all good parents need help. They report from their seminars that most parents don’t ask for help unless situations with their children spiral out of control–and that few parents are willing to admit they have moments when they feel clueless.

“Admitting to our limitations and errors as parents allows us to liberate ourselves from a societal pressure of perfection,” says Laura. “We free ourselves up and, in the process, inspire our children through the example of our humanity.”

“It is liberating to admit to our own mistakes–we all make them,” says Malcolm. “You can get back on track by saying something like, ‚ÄòSon, I need to apologize for how I handled that situation yesterday. I got sucked into your terrorist attitude and let you off the hook. I promise not to let that happen today.'”

Malcolm Gauld is the President of Hyde Schools, the character-building high schools that pioneered the famous “Attitude over Aptitude” philosophy and have been featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes, ABC’s 20/20, PBS, and more. Laura Gauld is executive director of the Hyde boarding schools and head of school at Hyde School in Woodstock, CT. The Gaulds have three children.

For more information on Malcolm and Laura Gauld, The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have book and workshops, and Hyde Schools, contact Rose Mulligan at 207-443-7379, or by e-mail at