I never gave much thought to being a father. I was finishing up grad school when my wife first talked to me about starting a family. First I had to decide if I was going to continue on to an advanced degree or get a job.

The decision about continuing in school was a big one because it would mean moving to England to attend Oxford. Ultimately I decided not to do it (though several years later I did go to Duke) so we decided to go ahead and have a kid.

I would not recommend my method of choosing to start a family. You should give it a lot more thought than I did. I just figured it was the next natural step after marriage so we took the dive into parenthood.

I’ve learned a lot since then about parenting. It is not for the faint of heart. It is a time consuming job. And it is incredibly rewarding. Raising my sons has been one of the great joys of my life. I may have never dreamed about being a dad but I sure have loved being one.

My boys are now grown men. One serves his country as an Army officer, the other helps our country by working in the alternative energy field. One is single, the other is married. And next month he is going to become a dad himself.

They are not perfect and have made their share of mistakes. But they have had a lot of success in their few years on earth - academically, athletically, professionally and relationally.

Here is what I learned about developing them to be successful.

Develop Their Self Image

Your kids need to know how much you matter to them. They must believe you love them unconditionally. To the extent that any person can do that since only God can fully do it. Speak words of affirmation so they know how you see them.

A defined set of values is crucial to a successful life. Having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and following His teachings should be their highest priority.

I’ve always told my boys I am their number one supporter. No one believes in them more than me. And I had to prove it at various times in my parenting. Sometimes it cost me time and sometimes it cost quite a bit of money.

Help them to have a positive outlook on life and their future. Keep them focused on their God-given potential. Expect great things from them, keep your expectations high. Get them to believe what you believe about them.

They will deal with rejection, especially in the teenage years. They will be discouraged and even depressed at times. Motivate them by your words and your actions. Be an encourager every time they need it.

Develop Their Individual Achievement

It is crucial that every child know they can do one thing well. It really doesn’t matter what it is. They just need to have the knowledge that there is something they do well. And that others know it too.

Achieving a degree of mastery in something works wonders for children. When they know they are good at something it will foster a potential mindset. This opens the door for all kinds of future opportunities.

It might be academics; it might be in athletics or something else. Music, art, and robotics – the list is greater today than it has ever been. You can assist them in finding what they enjoy.

When they find it, your role is to challenge them to be the best. Inspire them to achieve success and experience the joy of accomplishment. Invite them to aspire to greater things. When they do, their self-confidence will be your gift to them.

Develop Their People Skills

IQ is God given. EI is self-developed. Their emotional intelligence may have more to do with their long-term success than their innate intelligence. There are smart people and those with people skills. Both are required today for lifelong success.

Daniel Goleman coined the term emotional intelligence to describe the ability to manage yourself and your relationships effectively. Many experts believe EI is as important as IQ in determining personal and professional success. EI comprises four fundamental capabilities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social skill. Each capability contains a set of competencies.

Competencies like empathy: the skill at sensing other people’s emotions. Self-control: the ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses under control. Building bonds: proficiency at cultivating and maintaining a host of relationships.

Communication: skill at listening and at sending clear, well-understood messages. Teamwork and collaboration: competence at promoting cooperation and team building. Self-awareness: the ability to read and understand your emotions as well as recognize their impact on your relationships.

Teaching your kids these skills will foster a lifetime of healthy relationships. Which is a key to them having a happy life.

Develop Their Spiritual Foundation

I think this is the most important to develop in your children. We have a mind, body and soul. All need to be cared for but the most important is your soul, because it is eternal. Make sure their soul is saved through faith in Jesus.

Do not let them decide whether they go to church. Take them and expose them to the Bible’s teachings, community and ways to serve. Guide them in their faith journey.

A defined set of values is crucial to a successful life. Having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and following His teachings should be their highest priority.

Help them to consider the big questions of life. Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning and purpose of life? Take advantage of these innumerable teachable moments in your parenting.

Assist them in discovering God’s plan for their lives. God has set them up for success, giving them talents, abilities, gifts and opportunities to do something meaningful with their lives.

Every parent makes mistakes along the way. We all fall short from time to time. But parenting is a marathon not a sprint. And over the long haul we can help our kids succeed.