How to be a Parent of Successful Children

Want to know if you’re going to raise a successful child? According to the research, there are 12 key traits that parents of successful children have in common. Business Insider has summarised them here:

They make their kids do chores

Using measures of individual’s success such as completion of education, getting started on a career path, IQ, relationships with family and friends, and not using drugs, and examining a child’s involvement in household tasks at all three earlier time, Rossmann determined that the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four. However, if they did not begin participating until they were 15 or 16, the participation backfired and those subjects were less “successful.” The assumption is that responsibility learned via household tasks is best when learned young.  – University of Minnesota

The value of doing chores:

  • Helps children build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance.
  • Teaches children how to be empathetic and responsive to others’ needs.
  • May help improve mental health.

How to set chores:

  • Focus on “being a helper” as opposed to merely “helping out” as it increases your child’s desire to pitch in.
  • Set time for chores alongside homework or soccer practice to reinforce consistency.
  • Keep chores separate from allowances – paying kids to do their chores decreases their motivation to help.
  • Chores should be tasks that benefit the whole family (e.g. sorting the recycling) rather than self-care (e.g. cleaning own bedroom) to promote prosocial behaviour.
  • Work on chores together – everyone should be pitching in at the same time.
  • Don’t use chores as punishment – keep it neutral.

successful children have strong social skillsThey teach their kids social skills

A comprehensive 20-year examination from the American Journal of Public Health of 800 children from kindergarten through their mid-20s found a link between a child’s social skills in kindergarten and how well they were doing in early adulthood.

Children who were helpful and shared in kindergarten were more likely to have graduated college and have a full-time job at age 25. The children who had problems resolving conflicts, sharing, cooperating and listening as kindergartners were less likely to have finished high school and college, and they were more likely to have substance abuse problems and run-ins with the law. – CNN

See also: Nurture Shock – Plays Well with Others

How to teach social skills:

See also: 101 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills

They have high expectations

In 1964, a group of elementary school students were given a special test by a Harvard psychologist, Robert Rosenthal. Rosenthal then reported to the class teacher that the results revealed certain students would bloom academically. In the next school year, the students who were highlighted had excelled as predicted. On average, the first-graders increased their IQ scores by more than 27 points. It was then revealed that the special test was faked and that the bloomers had been chosen at random. It had been the teachers’ belief in their students’ potential, not any innate advantage, that spurred these students to achieve. This effect has been name the Pygmalion effect.

The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is the phenomenon whereby higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. – Wikipedia

The problem with the Pygmalion effect is that it is tied to subconscious belief. Like the placebo effect, it doesn’t work if we don’t really believe in our children. The pygmalion effect comes from our subconscious behaviours, micro-expressions, and other non-verbal communications that we express unconsciously.

pygmalion affect on successful children

Image Source: Discover

If our children will live up to, or down to, our expectations based on our unwitting body language, perhaps the first person we need to work on is ourselves.

They have higher education levels

Studies (Dubow et al, 2009, Tang et al, 2014) have linked parents’ education levels to their children’s educational and occupational success. Since this is an “after the fact” piece of information that we cannot change, there isn’t much to say about it. Then again, you could start a new course of study to model to your child your own high personal aspirations and hope it rubs off.

successful children learn math earlyThey teach kids Math early on

“Mastery of early math skills predicts not only future math achievement, it also predicts future reading achievement. And it does so just as reliably as early literacy mastery of vocabulary, letters and phonetics predicts later reading success.” – Greg Duncan, Northwestern University

A meta-analysis of 35,000 preschoolers revealed that early math skills are a strong predictor of later achievement (Duncan et al, 2007). Here’s how you can start early:

They develop relationships with their kids

The quality of children’s early caregiving experiences has an enduring and ongoing role in promoting successful social and academic development into the years of maturity. – Dr. Lee Raby

A study of 243 people born into poverty found that sensitive caregiving in the first three years of life predicted academic achievement and social competence from childhood through to adulthood. Sensitive caregiving involved:

  • prompt and appropriate responses to children’s signals.
  • positive interactions with children
  • providing a secure base for children to explore the world

See also: Early Childhood Development – What Neuroscience Says About Parenting, Care and Learning

They are less stressed

Parents who can manage their own stress well, provide an optimal environment for children to grow and develop in:

“the most critical thing that we can transmit to our kids is not our ever-present, undying love – it’s actually to provide them with a sense of calm and the absence of stress, which he says may be more powerful than declarations of love. This is what will ultimately help their growing brains wire normally, without having to accommodate for some vague sense of impending danger as they develop, which may or may not exist.” – David Code, Forbes

Here’s how we can manage our own stress:

The Mums work outside the home

In a new study of 50,000 adults in 25 countries, daughters of working mothers completed more years of education, were more likely to be employed and in supervisory roles and earned higher incomes. Having a working mother didn’t influence the careers of sons, which researchers said was unsurprising because men were generally expected to work — but sons of working mothers did spend more time on child care and housework. – The New York Times

Even though the study supports working mothers, The New York Times is also quick to point out that children whose parents spend high-quality time with them are also more likely to succeed (see above: parent relationships with children). The main point of this finding is that mothers who work outside the home convey non-traditional gender roles to their daughters. Exposure to mothers who work show children the “alternatives around what’s appropriate behavior for boys and for girls, and that those alternatives aren’t constrained by really tight gender stereotypes” (Kathleen L. McGinn, professor at Harvard Business School).

Given the changing nature of employment opportunities and the increasing number of mothers who now work from home, I believe the true bottom line is for children to understand that mothers have a life beyond the typical domestic responsibilities of taking care of the home and looking after the children. Now that we also have a growing population of stay-home Dads, I should think that boys are also learning about their non-traditional options.

They have higher socioeconomic status

Socioeconomic status predicts children’s cognitive ability at kindergarten entry. The factors contributing to the disparity in reading and math ability were family background, health, home learning, parenting, and early care and education factors.

Children in lower SES quintiles had younger mothers, less frequent parent reading, less home computer use (27%–84%), and fewer books at home (26–114). Parent’s supportive interactions, expectations for their child to earn a college degree (57%–96%), and child’s preschool attendance (64%–89%) increased across quintiles. Candidate explanatory factors explained just over half the gradients, with family background factors explaining 8% to 13%, health factors 4% to 6%, home learning environment 18%, parenting style/beliefs 14% to 15%, and early education 6% to 7% of the gaps between the lowest versus highest quintiles in reading and math. – Larson et al, 2015

In other words, some of the important factors were:

While these interventions may not take into account all the negative factors of low SES, it is a start in the right direction.

successful childrenThey teach grit

In study after study over the past dozen years, the research has shown that you can be smart and talented and curious but still not reach your potential (and having things come easily may actually work against you) if you don’t also develop a capacity to work hard and persist through setbacks over time. – Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverence

How can we inculcate grittiness? We can start with these three things:

  1. The Growth Mindset
  2. Self-Control
  3. Deliberate Practice

See also: Raising Kids with Grit

They give their kids bias-proof names

If you already have children then there’s really not much to be done unless you’re considering a name-change. If you’re planning to have another child, here are a few things to think about for your next child’s name:

  • Make it easy to pronounce.
  • Pick a common name.
  • Keep it short for your boys – not too many syllables; make it longer for your girls.
  • Give them a white-sounding name.
  • Choose a name that starts with a letter near the beginning of the alphabet.
  • Add a middle name.
  • Keep your boys’ names masculine and your girls’ names gender neutral.

They understand the importance of good nutrition and eating habits

successful children - brain foodsEat breakfast

Children who do not eat breakfast at home or at school were less able to learn. Hunger can lead to lower math scores, attention problems, and behavior, emotional, and academic problems. Furthermore, studies show that children who are consistently or often hungry are more likely to repeat a grade.

Feed the brain

Certain foods linked to improved brain function include:

  • Walnuts boost memory, concentration and processing speed.
  • Blackcurrents improve mood, attention and accuracy.
  • Nuts, lean beef, dark chocolate, blueberries, fish, wholegrains, beans, leafy greens, apple, and blackberries protect and improve brain function.

Stay hydrated

Adequate hydration ensures optimal brain function. Dehydration can affect memory, executive function, attention and other cognitive functions.

Critical Thinking in the Age of Misinformation

critical thinking skillsSome time back, we highlighted the importance of helping children develop critical thinking skills, especially in this age of information. We also wrote about the problem of dysrationalia that affects everyone, especially those who are intelligent. The recent hoo-ha about the fake news on Facebook serves to reiterate yet again the value of critical thinking.

“Honestly, people are definitely dumber. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary.” – Paul Horner, creator of Fake News (CBS News)

As the number of sites for fake news increase, we are turning more and more to unreliable media as our main source of information:

“News researchers have counted at least 60 sites that post fake on-line news stories with either fabrications or exaggerations that make the story incredible—without credibility…Facebook is the number one tool for referrals of false information, accounting for nearly half of their traffic. Kids are growing up in a world where social media plays a gigantic role in how they get their information. According to a Pew Research Center Survey, nearly two of every three people receive their news from social media sources, up from about half in 2012.” – Tim Elmore, Growing Leaders

A Lack of Critical Thinking

A study from Stanford University concurs – as many as 80 to 90% of the 7,000+ student participants were unable to predict the worthiness of their news sites. They have a hard time determining the credibility of information online, they are duped by sponsored content, and they don’t always recognise the political bias of social messages. Not only do they have trouble distinguishing advertisements from news articles, they also struggle to identify the source of the information.

One assessment required middle schoolers to explain why they might not trust an article on financial planning that was written by a bank executive and sponsored by a bank. The researchers found that many students did not cite authorship or article sponsorship as key reasons for not believing the article.

Another assessment had middle school students look at the homepage of Slate. They were asked to identify certain bits of content as either news stories or advertisements. The students were able to identify a traditional ad — one with a coupon code — from a news story pretty easily. But of the 203 students surveyed, more than 80 percent believed a native ad, identified with the words “sponsored content,” was a real news story. – Science Daily

See also: Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning

Learning to be Critical

While developers are figuring out how to handle the fake news problem, we should be arming our children with the skills to spot fake news. Commonsense Media shared the following suggestions which are a great place to start:

  • Questions to think about:
    • Who made this?
    • Who is the target audience?
    • What is left out of this message that might be important?
    • Who paid for this? Or, who gets paid if you click on this?
    • Who might benefit or be harmed by this message?
    • Is this credible (and what makes you think that)?
  • What to check/look out for:
    • Unusual URLS
    • Glaring errors – spelling, grammar
    • Suspect images – low quality, sensational images
    • Your emotions – fake news is designed to provoke extreme reactions
    • Author – is there any information about the author?
    • Check sources: who else is reporting the same news? Sites like Snopes, Wikipedia, and Google can also help verify the information.

Lessons in Humility

We have also written about the value of humility. Being humble helps us stay open to new ideas and the possibility that we may be wrong. But that’s not all – a recent study demonstrates that being humble can also help us to be less susceptible to fake news.

The intellectually humble took longer to read the first controversial statements – especially if the information ran counter to their beliefs. At the experiment’s end, they were better at identifying new statements, and, when wrong, they had a gut feeling about the mistake.

Meanwhile, the intellectually arrogant skimmed through the reading. They were less accurate at identifying statements as new, and they were sure their wrong responses were correct. And the intellectually arrogant were more susceptible to the fake news items: they didn’t know what they didn’t know. – Washington Post


The short of the long – stay humble, question everything, and check the source.


Mental Toughness and Resilience

Mental toughness and resilience are two qualities that are often on my mind when I think of the kind of attributes I would like my children to develop. So when personal life coach, Clive Leach, came to GIS to talk about Mental Toughness, I knew I couldn’t miss this one…

Mental Toughness – What is it? Do you need it? Have you got it?

Flourish [verb]

  • to thrive; grow well; be healthy
  • to prosper; be successful; do well

Before we can talk about mental toughness, we need to know how well our children doing. In science, the term for that is “flourish”. If we aren’t flourishing, we don’t have what we need to be mentally tough. It’s a little like needing to meet the basic needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy before we can tend to our higher aspirations.

What do we need to flourish?


  • Positive Emotion
    • the ability to be optimistic and view the past, present, and future in a positive perspective.
    • joy, inspiration, gratitude, hope, pride, serenity, amusement, curiosity, awe, love.
  • Engagement – the ability to participate in a project that entirely absorbs us in the present moment.
  • Relationships – the need for connection, love, intimacy, and a strong emotional and physical interaction with others.
  • Meaning – having purpose in life.
  • Accomplishment – having goals and ambition that give us a sense of satisfaction when we achieve them.

Source: Pinterest

Predictors for Flourishing Across the Lifespan:

What do children need for future well-being and success? It isn’t IQ, academic scores or money. They need:

Positive Education

IPEN – International Positive Education Network:

The goal of IPEN is to promote positive education – where the focus of education is not only academic achievement but also the development of character and overall student well-being.

Positive education is defined as education for both traditional skills and for happiness. The high prevalence worldwide of depression among young people, the small rise in life satisfaction, and the synergy between learning and positive emotion all argue that the skills for happiness should be taught in school. There is substantial evidence from well controlled studies that skills that increase resilience, positive emotion, engagement and meaning can be taught to schoolchildren. – Oxford Review of Education

Positive education in schools helps to teach children not only the skills to be successful but what they need to flourish in life.

Mental Toughness

Mental toughness has often been associated with performance in sports. Recent research suggests that mental toughness may also have some bearing on academic performance in school.

See: Mental toughness in education: exploring relationships with attainment, attendance, behaviour and peer relationships – Educational Psychology

How can we measure mental toughness? The MTQ48 Mental Toughness Questionaire measures the following outcomes which can provide a good gauge:

  • Academic performance
  • Positive behaviours
  • Student well-being
  • Completion/Drop out
  • Career aspirations
  • Employability
  • Staff well-being

Mental Toughness vs Resilience

Mental toughness and resilience are often used interchangeably but there is a difference:

  • Resilience is having the ability to persevere when obstacles are thrown at you.
  • Mental Toughness is choosing to take the path with the obstacles even when we know an easier path exists.

Mental toughness, therefore, is one step ahead of resilience. We want our children to be resilient in the face of adversity but we also want them to have the mental toughness to take the road less travelled.

Building Mental Toughness

How do we build mental toughness? Start with the 4 C’s of mental toughness:

  • Control – feeling in control of your life and your circumstances.
  • Commitment – goal orientation, willingness to stick to it and see it through.
  • Challenge – willingness to change, tackle obstacles, and take risks.
  • Confidence – the belief in your own abilities to handle conflict and challenges.
Mental Toughness - 4Cs

Image Source: AQR International

Looking After Ourselves

As parents we often forget ourselves but we cannot help our children if we don’t take care of ourselves first. It is exactly like the emergency aeroplane scenario – if we don’t put on our oxygen mask first, we may be unconscious before we can help our children with theirs.

Are you seaworthy?

Similarly, our children also need to be seaworthy before their mental toughness can be at optimum.

Area of Control

In our lives there are things that we can control and those that we can’t. It is pointless to worry about the things beyond our control since we do not have any influence over them. What we can do is focus on the things we can control.

Circle of Concern vs Circle of Influence

Image Source: Slideshare

Image Source: Slideshare

What we can control (Circle of Influence):

  • Health care
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Exercise and fitness
  • How we plan and prepare
  • Sleep, relaxation and recovery
  • Our perspective
  • Emotional regulation

Emotional Control – Develop a Reality Mindset

I’ve had many catatrophes in my life. Most of which never actually happen.” – Mark Twain

Develop emotional control by watching the A.N.T.s (Automatic Negative Thoughts) and replacing them with P.E.T.s (Performance Enhancing Thoughts)! Here are some ways to do that:

Learned Optimism – PRESENT

  • Notice negative thinking and consequences
  • Challenge them, get a perspective and take action

Best Self Exercise – PAST

  • Consider your achievements to date
  • Create affirmations and reminders

Best Possible Self Exercise – FUTURE

  • Write a letter to the future using mental imagery / visualisation of what you aspire your future to be like.
  • Identify what would you require to have lived a “good life”?

Gratitude Exercises – PRESENT / PAST

  • Regular practice of recognising 3 good things in your life – What’s working well and why?
  • Gratitude visit – express your gratitude to someone in your life.


Relationships are one of the most powerful things we can have. They have a “Butterfly Effect” on our lives. We need to cultivate our relationships and teach our children to do the same.

  • The 3:1 positivity to negativity ratio
  • Self-focused / Other-focused
  • Asking / Telling
  • Kindness and altruism
  • Gratitude and Forgiveness
  • Humour and Playfulness
  • Amplifies flourishing and trust
  • Buffers against adversity

GROW Coaching Conversations

The GROW Model is another great way to help children flourish. Here’s how you can use the GROW Coaching model:

Image Source: Discovery in Action

More about the Grow Model:

Key Coaching Skills:

  • Asking powerful questions
  • Listening for potential
  • Looking for strengths
  • Being present, challenging and encouraging

Provide opportunities for coaching and growing experiences, like these:

  • The Helmsman Project – combining coaching and adventure education to bring about lasting, positive changes in the lives of adolescents.
  • Flying Fish – adventure training and experiences in water and mountain sports.

For example, in navigating a boat, the children learn how a slight change in the direction of their course can have a significant impact on their final destination. It links back to how even small changes in their lives can have a big impact in their future.

I have long felt that adventure education and sports offer powerful learning experiences. I know I learned many of my most important lessons in life through hiking, rock climbing and skiing.