We all want our children to succeed. Success can mean different things to different people. In general, it refers to realizing success and getting positive results. The success of a person depends on many factors. Yet, research suggests that successful people’s early childhoods share several common characteristics.
How to Raise Successful Kids
Following decades of scientific research, here is a list of seven things every parent can do to create favorable conditions for their children to succeed in life. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point for parents who wish to raise successful children.
1. Be A Warm, Responsive And Accepting Parent
In 1938, Harvard University conducted a special study to find the secret to raising successful people1.
In the Harvard Grant Study, the first study of its kind, 268 male Harvard students, including John F. Kennedy, were tracked over the next seventy years. Their physical and emotional health were recorded, and their successes, or the lack of, were analyzed2.
Researchers arrived at one clear conclusion:
Relationship is the secret to a happy and successful life. Having a childhood in which one feels accepted and nurtured is one of the best predictors of adult success, well-being and life satisfaction.
This outcome was hardly surprising.
Bowlby & Ainsworth formulated the Attachment Theory in the 1950s, stating that a child who receives warm and nurturing care from a caregiver can develop a secure attachment. A child with a secure attachment is much more likely to have positive development and outcomes.
In addition, human brains are highly experience-dependent3. The brain’s architecture is shaped by life experiences and interactions4. An experience with a warm and responsive parent sets the foundation for future mental health. Memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength.
Therefore, the best way to raise successful kids is to become a warm, responsive, and accepting parent, and cultivate a close parent-child relationship.
2. Master and Teach Emotional Regulation
Being able to regulate one’s emotions is crucial in achieving success and happiness in this world5,6.
Emotional regulation is not a skill we’re born with. It is crucial for us to teach our children how to control their emotions.
However, teaching emotion regulation is not simply giving kids exercises or games to play. Children learn to self-regulate primarily from watching the parents and seeing how they regulate themselves7. If we are upset and yell at our kids every time they misbehave, we cannot expect our kids to be able to stay calm when they get upset.
Many of us were brought up being reprimanded or yelled at when we misbehaved. Therefore, emotional regulation is probably not something you have mastered either. So to help your child succeed in life, first and foremost, master self-regulation yourself and become a good role model for them. Then your child will learn how to do this.
3. Let Them Practice Decision Making
As parents, we want to protect our children, but controlling or helicopter parenting can hinder rather than enhance a child’s development. Making sound decisions requires practice, which can only come from experiences.
Give children choices over non-safety and health-related things so they can start learning how to choose. Instead of forcing them to follow your advice, guide them. However, if they still want to do it their way, let them suffer the natural consequences. Experience is the most efficient way to learn to make good decisions. Autonomy also allows a child to gain self-trust and self-esteem.
A person cannot succeed no matter how well they’re equipped if they don’t want to succeed. A person needs to be motivated to achieve greatness in what they do. Besides learning to make good choices, freedom of choice is also a crucial motivator, especially with school work.
If kids are not allowed to make their own decisions, they will lose motivation. A child’s ability to self-motivate to learn and achieve relies on having the autonomy to choose.
4. Challenge Them Just Enough
Children are motivated to strive toward goals they can achieve. It takes effort to sustain motivation, but success must be possible.
A task becomes uninteresting to the child when it is too easy, but also when it is too challenging to accomplish. Offer kids challenges within their current capabilities and provide them with prompt feedback so they can keep improving their performance.
In case school work seems too easy, you can help them find extra learning materials. If school work is too challenging for your child’s current level, work with the school or seek a tutor to work on this.
5. Stop Using Reward And Punishment. Motivate Them Through Values.
Not all motivations are created equal. Rewards and punishment only create extrinsic motivation, which is not a good long-term solution.
We may be able to force kids to do school work when they’re young using rewards and punishment. But if they don’t like learning or school, they will quit eventually, or do poorly in it.
To help kids develop intrinsic motivation, share your values in why learning is important. Going to schools and learning shouldn’t be just about getting A’s. It’s about acquiring knowledge and growing as a person.
Only if kids enjoy learning will they be intrinsically motivated to succeed and enjoy doing it. Thus, strive to motivate your child to learn, and to enjoy learning.
6. Kind, Firm and Respectful Discipline
Being kind and firm is the characteristic of authoritative parenting, which has been consistently found linked to a kid’s success. Children whose parents are authoritative tend to do better in school, more resilient, have better coping skills, and less likely to drop out from school8.
“Tough” parents are often afraid that kindness will allow their children to rule the house. But being kind doesn’t mean being permissive. These are two separate things. Being permissive means you’re warm and kind, but you cannot set rules or maintain boundaries9. But being kind and firm means you can kindly let your child know what the boundaries are and then firmly enforce them.
Positive parenting is a popular form of authoritative parenting you can adopt. It is a parenting philosophy that emphasizes using positive instructions and mutual respect to each other.
Inductive parenting is another authoritative way to teach kids right from wrong. In addition to positive instructions and mutual respect, it also teaches a child critical thinking and strengthens their reasoning skills, which we sorely need in our society today.
7. Listen To Science And Avoid Parenting Myths
“Make them do chores“, “tough love“, etc. are popular parenting advice you can find on the Internet. Science shows that these myths not only fail in raising healthy children, but some of them are detrimental to kids.
In some ways, parenting is an art. Everyone can do it differently because every child is different. But there are also universal truths, no matter how different your child is.
And this is what science-based parenting means. No doctrine, no opinion, no personal beliefs, no bias. Just facts that scientists have discovered through rigorous peer-reviewed research to help moms and dads raise thriving kids.
Also, check out these science-based parenting books.
Final Thoughts On How To Raise Successful Kids
The bottom line is parenting matters! When we adopt science-based approaches to parenting, we can make a huge difference in our kids’ lives.
Need More Motivation Help?
If you are looking for additional tips and an actual step-by-step plan, this video How To Motivate Kids is a great place to start.
It gives you the steps you need to identify motivation issues in your child and the strategy you can apply to help your child build self-motivation and become passionate in learning.
Once you know this science-based strategy, motivating your child becomes easy and stress-free.
- 1.Vaillant GE. TRIUMPHS OF EXPERIENCE: THE MEN OF THE HARVARD GRANT STUDY. Harvard University Press; 2012.
- 2.Woodhams V, de Lusignan S, Mughal S, et al. Triumph of hope over experience: learning from interventions to reduce avoidable hospital admissions identified through an Academic Health and Social Care Network. BMC Health Serv Res. Published online June 10, 2012. doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-153
- 3.May A. Experience-dependent structural plasticity in the adult human brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Published online October 2011:475-482. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2011.08.002
- 4.Greenough WT, Black JE, Wallace CS. Experience and Brain Development. Child Development. Published online June 1987:539. doi:10.2307/1130197
- 5.Graziano PA, Reavis RD, Keane SP, Calkins SD. The role of emotion regulation in children’s early academic success. Journal of School Psychology. Published online February 2007:3-19. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2006.09.002
- 6.Grandey AA. Emotional regulation in the workplace: A new way to conceptualize emotional labor. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 2000;5(1):95-110.
- 7.Adam EK, Gunnar MR, Tanaka A. Adult Attachment, Parent Emotion, and Observed Parenting Behavior: Mediator and Moderator Models. Child Development. Published online January 2004:110-122. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2004.00657.x
- 8.Rumberger RW, Ghatak R, Poulos G, Ritter PL, Dornbusch SM. Family Influences on Dropout Behavior in One California High School. Sociology of Education. Published online October 1990:283. doi:10.2307/2112876
- 9.Robinson CC, Mandleco B, Olsen SF, Hart CH. Authoritative, Authoritarian, and Permissive Parenting Practices: Development of a New Measure. Psychol Rep. Published online December 1995:819-830. doi:10.2466/pr0.19184.108.40.2069