Parent Habits Become Children Habits

Tom Corley boats - crop

Why is there so much unrest in America’s inner cities? The experts are quick to point the finger of blame at a variety of causes: low wages, racial discrimination, Police gone wild, America’s shrinking manufacturing base, U.S. companies moving oversees, China stealing our jobs, illegal immigrants stealing our jobs, poor education system, the rich exploiting the poor, insufficient taxation of the rich, etc.

But none of these pundits ever address the real source of this unrest – bad parenting.

America’s growing discontent among the poor of the inner cities and the growing disparity nationwide between the rich and the poor is a reflection of how America’s have’s and have-not’s were raised by their parents.

How do I know? I spent 5 years interviewing 177 self-made millionaires and 128 poor people and documented what I learned in something that I call my Rich Habits Study. And then I detailed many of the habits that separate the rich and the poor in my books Rich Habits, Rich Kids, Change Your Habits, Change Your Life and Rich Habits Poor Habits.

What I learned from my five year study was that habits are contagious. Almost all of these self-made millionaires picked up specific habits from their parents that gave them a leg up and enabled them to build a successful, happy and fulfilled life. And almost all of the poor in my study picked up habits from their parents that contributed to a generational cycle of poverty, misery and discontent.

Nicolas Christakis, a Yale University professor and leading researcher on socially contagious behaviors agrees. In his research, he found that habits are contagious; passed from parents to children, good or bad. Here are some examples of contagious habits:

  • If parents eat healthy, their children will eat healthy.
  • If parents are overweight, their children will be overweight.
  • If parents smoke cigarettes, their children are more likely to smoke cigarettes.
  • If parents exercise regularly, their children will exercise regularly. If they don’t exercise, their children will not exercise.
  • If  parents value education and learning, their children will value education and learning. If they don’t, their children will not.
  • If parents are law-abiding, their children will be law-abiding. If parents are lawbreakers, their children will become lawbreakers.
  • If parents are violent, they will raise violent children.
  • If parents have an optimistic, positive outlook, their children will have an optimistic, positive outlook. If parents are pessimistic and negative, their children will be pessimistic and negative.

Habits spread like a virus. The habits you learn from your parents shapes the life you lead. They will either lift you up or tear you down.

What were some of the habits the successful people in my study picked up from their parents?

  1. You Create Your Life – The self-made individuals in my study were taught that they were the architects of their lives. You and you alone create the circumstances that make you rich or poor.
  2. Individual Responsibility – Self-made’s were not allowed to play the victim. They were taught to take personal responsibility for the good and bad in life and were not allowed to blame anyone but themselves when things went wrong. Because things always go wrong in life.
  3. Respect for the Law – They learned from their parents to respect police and law enforcement officials. If they broke the law, their parents punished them severely.
  4. Pursue Your Main Purpose – They were exposed to numerous novel activities. The purpose of this was to help their kids discover their in-born talents. Ninety-three percent either liked or loved their jobs. When you find and use your innate talents to make money, that leads to fulfillment and financial success because you will devote more time to anything you love doing. When you can make money doing what you love this leads you to your true calling in life. Most parents don’t do this. Most parents, unfortunately, lock their kids into one or two activities for ten years or more. As a result, kids never have an opportunity to explore different activities. There’s just not enough time to learn something new when you spend most of  that time on one or two travel teams.
  5. Pursue Dreams and Goals – 61% were required to Dream-Set. Dream-Setting is the process of writing out a script of your ideal perfect life. This script then became a blueprint for their lives. Eighty percent were taught to focus on one stretch goal (long-term goal) until they achieved it. Ninety-seven percent were taught a very different definition of a goal, which is: all goals require physical action and all goals must be 100% achievable, meaning you have the knowledge and skills to pursue the goal. Most fail at achieving goals because they were taught the wrong definition of a goal, which is: goals are broad objectives, like making $100,000 a year. That’s a dream, not a goal. Goals and dreams are not the same thing. You create goals around each dream and when you realize all of the goals, you realize your dream.
  6. Pursuing Wealth is a Good Thing – Ninety-seven percent were taught that wealthy people were good, honest and hardworking. They were not evil or greedy.
  7. Hard Work Ethic – The self-made’s were not given things by their parents. They were required to work for the things they wanted. At an early age (nine or ten) they had to work to buy the things they wanted. Fifty-five percent were forced to work ten or more hours per month, at a minimum.
  8. Respect Property of Others – They were taught by their parents to respect the hard earned property of others.
  9. Daily Self-Improvement – Eighty-eight percent were required to read educational books a minimum of thirty minutes or more every day. Fifty-four percent were required to learn new words to expand their vocabulary. Sixty-eight percent were programmed for college – they were indoctrinated with the idea at an early age that they would be going to college.
  10. Use Time Productively – They were not allowed to waste their time watching TV. Today, video games, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and other new technologies are rapidly replacing TV watching. Reading books has taken a back seat to these modern day time wasters.

I also studied the poor and found some common habits that poor people picked up from their parents:

  • Dependence on Government and Other – They were taught to rely on government benefits and the handouts from others. This created a dependency mindset that stayed with them their entire adult lives.
  • Defiance of the Law – They were taught that because the cards were stacked against them, the police and law enforcement were their enemies and were intent to keep them down and out. This mindset puts many of the poor in prison, which only keeps them poor.
  • Resenting the Rich – They were taught to despise those who were successful. The rich were evil, greedy and responsible for poverty because they paid low wages.
  • Poor Work Ethic – They were taught, by example, to seek out free government benefits in order to help them survive. Dependency results in a poor work ethic. Why work if you can get what you need without working?
  • Entitlement Thinking – They instilled in their kids the belief that the poor were unfairly persecuted and taken advantage of by the rich. Therefore, they were entitled to the property of rich people. Eighty-seven percent of the poor believed rich people should be taxed more so that government would have more money to give to poor people.
  • Gambling – They learned from their parents that gambling was one of the only ways out of poverty. As a result, 77% of the poor gambled on the lottery every week.
  • Drugs – They learned by watching their parents to use drugs to escape their poverty.  Sixty percent of the poor admitted to getting drunk frequently.
  • Over Eating – They picked up the bad eating habits of their parents. Sixty-six percent of the poor were thirty pounds or more overweight.
  • Waste Time – They watched their parents spend hours in front of a TV and that habit became contagious. Seventy-seven percent admitted that they watched more than an hour of TV every night. Seventy-eight percent admitted to watching reality TV. This time wasting habit infected their own kids. The poor in my study said that their own kids spend many hours every day watching TV, playing video games or spending their time on social media, the Internet, etc.

The buck stops with parents. Children mimic the habits of their parents. Parents are the only shot most have at a mentor in life. When parents are poor mentors, their kids suffer and this often leads to poverty; a cycle of poverty that extends to multiple generations and causes discontent, dragging society down along with them.

Be Sociable, Share!
Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley is a bestselling author, speaker, and media contributor for Business Insider, CNBC and a few other national media outlets.

His Rich Habits research has been read, viewed or heard by over 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, holds a master’s degree in taxation and is President of Cerefice and Company, a CPA firm in New Jersey.
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
Email Tom
| Download Media Kit


  1. BRAVO ! Well said.

  2. I love this post and your message! It’s so easy for parents to play the blame game and not have enough balls to take responsibility for how their actions and lessons (or lack of) affect their children. I for one am fully committed to making sure that my boys grow up to be successful in ever aspect of their lives, especially financially. Thank you Thomas for your daily dose of financial education, I love how it gets my brain going first thing in the morning.

  3. Wow, I absolutely love this article Tom. I feel exactly what you are saying here. It takes a parent to raise a child not a welfare state. I hate the entitlement attitude of so many today. I am really pleased that you are taking a stand. I am about to launch a blogging page/affiliate marketing site aimed at helping moms find the gear they need. And I intend to be transparent about it because I don’t like sites that come off like its not what they are. I have my 11 year old daughter involved in part of the process. I encourage her to understand that there are ways even at her age to make money doing the things she loves to do-she does craft’s like needle felting and she is creating a collection of needle felt animals and characters she has created and will be making a book to sell as print demand. I’ll sell this on my website/blog as well. Independence and wealth go hand hand and this is what she is learning. I pray for the Bernie Sanders type mentality. It is that mentality that is destroying America’s youth today. God Bless America!

    • Tks KK. I’m getting nothing but love on this post and it makes me feel hopeful. We need to stand up to these so-called “parenting experts” who are anti-success, anti-pursuit of wealth and anti-individual responsibility.

      • Dear Thomas,
        I liked your article very much regarding how to be rich, financially independent and save for the future. In India our elders believed in saving and not living on loans. But you are teaching these good habits in America, however here in India in the last 3 decades the government has been advising to change towards being a credit economy, use credit cards, invest in risky items like share market. I don’t approve of this as they are copying America blindly. Here we have no social security schemes like unemployment allowance etc. The result is now whole families commit suicide together as they are not able to pay off the debts. I wish reforms be such to create a healthy n wealthy society not those that lead families to commit suicide.

  4. I really liked your idea of making kids independent, law-abiding citizens and that’s what all parents should aim at to make their kids successful and responsible in life which will lead to the country being prosperous. That is correct parenting.

  5. Enjoy the posts and books, but this one is awfully misleading to suggest that a few good parental habits can fix a major, socio-economic problem. For example, lots of evidence shows that smart, hardworking kids from poor families — i.e. those with great habits — still have a much harder time getting college degrees than their less qualified, wealthier peers. College graduation is perhaps the best way to break the cycle of poverty.

    • Tom K, I couldn’t agree with you more on your point. Although I do enjoy Tom C’s articles from time to time, I believe some of his over generalizations in this case are “well meaning”, but well of the mark. I speak from personal experience being a ghetto born Black Man, who managed to gain both BS and MS degrees, while clawing my way out of that repressive environment. Even before college, and while back in college, the row I had to hoe, and the rows of many of my middle class peers had to hoe, was as different as night and day. Still, there is a lot of utility in some of what Tom C has said. Which is why I still hang around,…. since too,…Earl Nightingale is gone…smile. Thanks

  6. Daniele Mallari says:

    I have just finished reading both Rich Habits and Rich Kids. I couldn’t agree with you more! As a high school counselor and a parent to three of of own children I will be putting your writing to great use! I thank you from the bottom of my heart! If you are ever in the Rhode Island area I would love to be at one of your speaking engagements!
    I only wish I could hire you are a personal mentor!
    Best Regards

  7. Hi Thomas C.Corley !!
    I do agree with both bad and good habits which you mentioned in your article. Children learn both good and bad habits from their elders and parents. So parents should always try to do their best and good things in front of their child. thanks and keep sharing

Speak Your Mind