There are a few things I have learned in raising 11 children and teaching in the public school for several years. I am not an expert – but close. I have probably made every mistake in the book and had to figure out how to correct my errors without causing a bigger travesty.

I did a few things right the first time around, but the mistakes I made gave me experience in the school of hard knocks. That qualifies for a doctorate degree in “parent management.” I don’t say “child-rearing” because most of what good parents do is teaching their children by example. You can’t teach what you are not.

I wasn’t blessed with children of my own. I married a man that had six ready-made children ranging in age from 9 months to 17 years old. Then, because I still wanted children, we adopted five children, one from Bulgaria and four from the foster care system.

Though I was 38 when I married, I was not prepared to be a mother of teenagers. I thought I knew exactly how to raise children – after all, I had a bachelor’s degree in education, I had taught for years, and I had a master’s degree in playwriting and child drama. Now that was useful.

Of course, I was very good at creating drama – and that is something you want to avoid like the plague. Your children already know more than you will ever know about drama.


Anyway, I gleaned a few success principles that will help children become successful adults. They are gifts that you can give only if you possess them yourself. If you don’t have them internalized already, the school of hard knocks will give you state-of-the-art on-the-job training and you can learn them right along with your children.

Principle Number One: Give your children an excellent vocabulary. This may seem odd, but it will give your children a step up in any crowd and will navigate them away from the street gang, whose language consists of “Yo, dude” and profanity.

Teachers will be impressed with your children and will treat them as though they are intelligent. Trust me; you want your children’s teachers to think they are intelligent. It saves time trying to convince them of that at parent conference. Actually, vocabulary gives the child an ability to think more clearly and to be able to comprehend more complex problems. Reading skills and comprehension will also be improved.

Vocabulary teaching starts with infants. Some parents baby-talk to their little ones. Sometimes it gets so bad you have a hard time distinguishing what the parents are saying, let alone understanding them. A child learns to speak by imitation. If a child doesn’t hear the word properly, he struggles to learn the correct pronunciation and meaning.

Some children are so impaired by their parents’ baby-talk that they require a speech therapist when they get in kindergarten. You can talk sweetly to your babies, but make sure every word is pronounced correctly. Teach them new words every day until they graduate from high school.

In Shakespeare’s day, people used about 60,000 words; today, Americans use about 3,000. You won’t run out of words. Every subject has its own vocabulary: math, science, literature, even physical education has its own set of terms. If you do chance to run out of words, try a foreign language. Give your child the gift of language.

Principle Number Two: Teach your children everything is their fault. They are in charge of the good and the bad circumstances in their lives. That sounds cruel and harsh. Everything isn’t your child’s fault, but if your child thinks it is someone else’s fault, he is powerless to affect the outcome. If he thinks it is his own fault, there are options.

Take the child who gets an “F” in a particular subject at school. It is easy to come up with excuses: The boy behind me keeps bothering me. The teacher doesn’t like me. There is a girl that keeps harassing me. I wasn’t able to eat breakfast on the day of the test. The dog ate my homework. I didn’t have time to study. The list goes on and on.

If the parent buys into the excuses, as often happens, the child is made a victim of society and therefore has no responsibility to make changes. The good parent-answer to the child’s excuses is: “Change your situation. If the boy keeps bothering you, move. If the teacher doesn’t like you, give her a reason to change her mind. If the girl keeps harassing you, get out of the situation and tell a person in authority. If the dog ate your homework, get another dog. No, stay away from the dog and do your homework over. Solve the problem.”

If you think about it, there are very few things that do not come in a package of “make a choice.” Analyze any situation and you can trace it back to something you could have done to make the outcome turn out differently. That’s how life becomes a teacher. We learn from our mistakes. We fix them and, hopefully, we do not make them again. If we don’t learn, I guarantee we will have another chance in a similar situation in the future.

Of course, there are acts of nature that are out of our control. A boulder falls off the mountain and crushes your car. You were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. You walk down the street and a car swerves and hits you.

You do everything you can to have a healthy baby and you have one that has a handicap. It wasn’t the baby’s fault. These situations require an attitude of “You have a problem: What are you going to do to solve it?” You must never let your child think he is a victim. Victims are absolved from any responsibility in life. They are robbed of the great blessing of overcoming a challenge and the self-esteem that results from solving the problem.

When I was in college, I met a girl in our dorm that had no hands. She used her feet to open doors, write her notes and to eat in the cafeteria. She was very productive. Someone must have taught her that she was not a victim.

She was given a challenge to make the world a better place by taking away other people’s excuses. God had given her a mission, and she did everything she could to fill that mission. She is not an isolated case; we have all seen people who defy the odds and become an inspiration to the world. It is certain they were not treated as if they were a victim.

When you teach children to think everything is their fault, you give them the ability to self-analyze. They learn to look at every problem as if it has a solution. They can come up with various ways to solve the problem rather than learn to make excuses or play the blame game.

They take complete control of their lives. Not only do they take responsibly for their failures, they also take responsibility for their successes. It is a wonderful thing when that happens.

You have children that look at a grade and say, “Wow! I did a great job on that one. Studying really works. I think I will be on the student council because I have some good ideas.” Or in another situation, they might say, “I’m not very good at football, but I want to play. I will spend some time practicing after school. Mom, can I spend some time with Joe? He is a great football player, and I want to learn his techniques?”

If you teach them to self-analyze, you can have children who walk away from a defeat with an attitude of “Give me this mountain! I will climb it or die trying!” Victims will never make that assumption – they make excuses and excuses give them permission to stop trying.

There are many more principles that I have learned in my short life of 60 and more years of life raising children, starting with myself, but I do not have time to share them all in this article – but I will, as time goes by. The most important thing a parent can learn is to be the kind of person you want your child to be.

Children learn best by imitation. You can scold, punish, ground or reward your child, but they will learn best when you help them realize they are in charge of their own life, and choices make all the difference. If they have a great vocabulary, people will perceive them as intelligent and will treat them that way.

If they truly believe they are responsible for their circumstances, both good and bad, they will be miles ahead of the game of life and they will have the best chance to be successful. PD