If you’re a parent, you probably want to know how to make your child successful in life. Success means different things to different people. But generally, it means accomplishment and getting positive results.
Many factors contribute to a person’s achievement. But research finds that there are several common parenting qualities present in successful people’s early childhood.
How to make your child successful in life
Here’s a list of things parents can do to create favorable conditions according to decades of scientific research. It’s not meant to be exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point for parents who want to raise successful children.
1. Be A Warm, Responsive And Accepting Parent Or Caretaker
In 1938, a special study was conducted at Harvard University looking for the answer to raising successful people1.
In this 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.
Researcher 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 and well-being.
This outcome was hardly surprising.
According to the Attachment Theory proposed by Bowlby & Ainsworth in the 1950s, a child who has a warm and nurturing caretaker develop secure attachment. A securely attached child is much more likely to have positive development and outcomes.
Studies also tell us that human brains are experience-dependent3, meaning experiences and interactions shape brain architecture4. Having a warm and responsive parent or caretaker who provides such experiences is the key to a strong foundation in a healthy brain and in future mental well-being.
Although the Harvard research has also found that recovering from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength.
So here it is…
Developing a close-knit relationship with your kid to create a childhood filled with happiness is one of the most important keys to raising happy and outstanding kids.
2. Master and Teach Emotional Regulation
Being able to regulate one’s emotions is crucial in achieving success and happiness in this world7,8. Self-regulation is not a skill we’re born with. One of the most important jobs as a parent is to teach our children how to regulate their emotions.
However, teaching emotion regulation is not simply giving kids exercises or games to play. Children learn emotional regulation primarily from watching the parents and seeing how they behave9,10. If we are upset every time our children misbehave, it’s unreasonable to expect kids to be able to regulate themselves perfectly.
Most of us were brought up being yelled at or reprimanded when we misbehaved. So this may not be a skill you have either. Think about the last time you yelled at your child when they did something wrong. That’s the time you were dysregulated. To help your kids succeed, first and foremost, master self-regulation yourself and become a good role model. Then, teach your child this important skill.
3. Nurture Intrinsic Motivation
A person cannot succeed no matter how well they’re equipped if they don’t want to succeed. One needs to be motivated to become very good at what they do. Intrinsic motivation is critical in allowing your child to excel and enjoy what they do.
To instill intrinsic motivation, stop using carrot and stick to motivate because these methods only create extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is not a good long term solution in getting your child to do things.
Take ourselves for example. If we hold a job we don’t like but it pays very well, we may stay with it for a while to pay the bills. But sooner or later, it will affect our happiness and mental well-being.
It’s the same with kids. We may be able to force them to do school work when they’re kids using rewards and punishment. But if they don’t like learning or school, they will quit sooner or later, or do poorly in it.
So, strive to motivate your child to learn, and to enjoy learning.
Scientists have found that these three innate factors can motivate your child intrinsically.
- Autonomy – Motivating instead of making a child do something.
- Competence – A sense of challenge and achievement.
- Relatedness – Feeling connected, respected and cared for.
In this course How to Motivate Kids in Distance Learning, I talk about how my mother used the above three principles to help me develop a passion for learning.
4. Use Kind And Firm Discipline
“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 boundaries5. But being kind and firm means you can kindly let your child know what the boundaries are and then firmly enforce them.
Being kind and firm is the characteristic of authoritative parenting, which has been consistently found linked to a kid’s success. Children of authoritative parents tend to do better in school, more resilient, have better coping skills, and less likely to dropout from school6.
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 discipline.
Inductive parenting is another authoritative way to teach kids right from wrong, and this is my parenting method of choice. 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.
5. Listen To Science And Avoid Parenting Myths
“Make them do chores“, “tough love“, etc. are popular parenting advice you can find on the Internet. Not only are these myths not effective in raising thriving kids according to science, but some of them are also harmful to children.
In some ways, parenting is an art. Everyone can do it differently because every child is different. But there are also things that are universally true, no matter how different your child is.
For example, it is almost never a good idea to starve a child. Humans need food and water to survive. Children also need nutrients to grow. No matter how different someone’s parenting philosophy is, “Do not starve your child” applies in almost every case.
And this is what science-based parenting means. No doctrine, no opinion, no personal beliefs, no bias. Just the fact that scientists have discovered through vigorous peer-reviewed research to help you raise kids to thrive.
- 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.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/pr0.1922.214.171.1249
- 6.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
- 7.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
- 8.Grandey AA. Emotional regulation in the workplace: A new way to conceptualize emotional labor. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 2000;5(1):95-110.
- 9.Gottman JM, Katz LF, Hooven C. Parental meta-emotion philosophy and the emotional life of families: Theoretical models and preliminary data. Journal of Family Psychology. Published online 1996:243-268. doi:10.1037/0893-3126.96.36.199
- 10.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