The skills that help us most in life are not the skills we learn from homework. In fact, Time magazine reports that homework is wasting kids’ time on a number of levels, and in his book “The Homework Myth,” Alfie Kohn rails against the massive amount of family time that’s lost to homework. Finally, Harris Cooper, who studies homework at Duke University, found that too much of it can be counter-productive to learning.

Ambition, self-confidence, and goal-setting are better indicators of adult-life success than doing well in school. So instead of harping on homework and test scores and insipid parental competitions over childhood metrics, help your children learn the skills that really make a difference in their future success or failure:

1. Teach your kids to persevere.
Persistence is what gets us what we want in life, and persistence without the risk of failure is not persistence — it’s monotony.

Some people think persistence is perfection, but perfection isn’t rewarded in the workplace — it’s penalized. So don’t teach your children to be perfect, teach them to try things that are very hard and not likely to go well. Then watch them overcome their fear of failure and try anyway.

You know that parental instinct to tell your kids everything will be all right, and that failure isn’t really failure? It’s not realistic, because persistence is moving forward even when you recognize that the odds are bad. So teach your kids to recognize bad odds, and help them move forward regardless.

2. Teach your kids to make decisions without doing all the research.
We all know we need goals, but most adults are hindered by their inability to commit to something big and meaningful. After all, how do you know what’s best for you to be doing at any given time? You don’t. We never know what’s best for us, because we’re limited in our knowledge. But we have to take action anyway.

Teaching your child to set a goal — even if it’s not perfect — is a great tool, because making a decision with imperfect information is a key to adult life. You can’t teach a kid to shoot for perfect decisions, because there aren’t any. But you can teach your child how to take action in the face of the information that could change.

(One of my favorite discussions about this sort of decision-making is on the blog Mind Your Decisions by Presh Talwalker, who writes a feature called Game Theory Tuesdays.)

3. Make yourself a positive thinker so you can teach it to your kids.
The biggest indicator of how happy someone is in adult life is how positive their outlook is. Adults can change their outlook with practice, and parents can help their children learn and practice positive thinking.

You can start by training yourself to talk to your children in terms of the good things they do. In his upcoming book “The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child,” Yale psychologist Alan Kazdin helps parents focus on the positives in their children’s behavior instead of the negatives. If you always focus on the bad behavior instead of the good behavior, your child will learn to do that for herself. Kazdin advises, for example, to say, “You did a great job cleaning your room — don’t forget to put the clothes in the hamper” instead of “You’re not done — there are still clothes on the floor.”

Did your child do something good? Make a big deal out of it, because as an adult, if you can’t focus on your achievements it’s unlikely that you’ll have any.

4. Teach your kids frugality.
A parent’s instinct is to provide as much as possible for their kids. This probably worked very well in the prehistoric era, when children would freeze to death if they didn’t get enough animal skins. Now that we’re dealing in iPods rather than skins, the need to provide isn’t so urgent.

The best way to learn how much you can live without is to live without it. I was forced, by a series of crazy circumstances, to learn how to live without almost all my possessions. I thought I needed so much more stuff than I really did.

It was a great lesson for me, and it made me realize that the only way to teach frugal living is to force it. If you impose frugal living on your kids, perhaps artificially, you end up giving them the freedom to focus on a future career for reasons more important than the stuff they can buy with their salary.

5. Know your own limitations.
Your children are growing up in an environment much different from the one you grew up in. The rules are different, and the measures for success are different.

So don’t find yourself stuck in old ways of thinking. Challenge your own assumptions first, in order to give your child the strongest foundation for adult life.

For those of you with older kids, here’s a list that will help you give advice during the college years.