Who wouldn’t want their child to hit the heights of success that Bill Gates has enjoyed?
While it’s ludicrous to set that as a bar, there’s still much to learn from studying the conditions behind that level of success. Gates’ parents obviously did something right, and as it turns out, Bill and Melinda Gates took the best of that upbringing and incorporated it with their own, unique parenting approach.
First things first. The Microsoft mastermind will tell you that wife Melinda has done 80 percent of the parenting in the Gates household, as Business Insider reported in 2018). That said, he and Melinda have jointly followed a very deliberate approach to raising their kids, based on a 1970’s model known as “Love and Logic.”
The model was created by a psychiatrist, psychologist and school principal and is based on 40 years of research and experience. And while Gates has said it’s not exactly how he was raised, there are principles within it that are undeniably similar to his parents approach.
Here are the central tenants of the model Bill and Melinda Gates use to raise their children.
1. Keep tight reins on your emotions and hold your tongue.
Look in the dictionary under “easier said than done” and you’ll find this sentiment. As Gates himself said, “Can you get rid of the emotion? You can’t totally do it.” My wife and I couldn’t agree more and would say that the related degree of difficulty is directly proportional to the height of our daughter’s emotion.
Dr. Charles Fay, one of the founders of the model says that for help on this front, picture yourself as a garage door opener that’s unresponsive; i.e. stuck, just not responding to someone pushing its button. So should you be with a child trying to push your buttons. No shouting, just emotional unresponsiveness.
And at first, he cautions, as you don’t respond back with emotion, they push harder, until they eventually realize their button pushing tactics won’t work. Fay even recommends using this phrase in the face of an emotional assault as many times as you have to: “I love you too much to argue.”
The bottom line here is this, according to Fay: “When kids try to pull us into manipulative arguments or try to wear us down so that we give in, we need (and they need) for it not to work.”
And when it doesn’t work, parents regain control; control because you’ve established real limits to how far they can push you (in a loving way).
2. Empower kids with tasks, space to choose how to complete them, and freedom to fail.
Two key caveats here, the cost of the failure should still be small and the failure itself must be accompanied with parental love and empathy. This also requires that you ask questions to move the child towards solving their own problems rather than feeding them answers.
All of this echoes a key principle of Bill Gates’ parents — to not limit son Bill’s independence or let him give up on things he wasn’t good at, as CNBC’s Make Itreported. The founders of the model say the empowerment approach works because it emphasizes respect and dignity for the child along with teaching consequences and smart decision making.
All that said, it’s hard to watch your child fail. I’ve come to realize that those failures hurt you far more than they hurt your child. My daughter is more resilient than I sometimes give her credit for. The pain of failure passes very quickly and is soon replaced with calm realizations of lessons learned (even if they won’t admit it in the moment).
3. Admire kids for who they are, not what they achieve.
How their character is evolving, as well as how their curiosity and problem-solving is progressing is far more important than any particular accomplishment.
Keep rewards focused on the child’s effort and the person he/she is becoming versus the tangible net outcome per se. This is something my wife and I are consistent on, constantly repeating that we appreciate the effort our daughter is putting into something. This helps on the other side of the coin too — when she doesn’t succeed at something, she knows we’re still going to praise her as long as she put the effort in.
Fay says in such moments it’s also critical to express empathy over anger and to remember that you can’t learn for them — you can only create the supportive environment for them to learn on their own.
Your child may not grow up to run Microsoft, but who’s to say what’s possible? Stay focused on love and logic, and lessons for success will follow.