Starting Early: How do you Raise a Successful Child?

How do you raise a successful child?

In Nurture Shock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman found that there were no tests available that could accurately predict a child’s intellectual potential – at least, not while they are still in kindergarten. Well, IQ tests for children may be unreliable, but according to John Medina in Brain Rules for Baby, there are several characteristics that can help to predict future success.

Although most parents hope for their child’s academic success at school, at the end of the day, I think what all parents really want is for their children to be successful in life. Academic success in school has always been accepted as a measure for that future success but it is purely a by-the-way – just think of the number of successful individuals who did not do well in school (or complete school, for that matter).

So what are these characteristics that help to predict the future success of a child?

Genetic Predisposition

Firstly, I think it is important for all parents to be aware that intelligence is 50% genetic. We often talk about how important nurture is – and make no mistake about it because it is important! – however, it should not be forgotten that nature also plays an equal role in determining intelligence.

Beyond this, Medina talks about 7 characteristics of intelligence:

  1. Memory
  2. Improvisation
  3. Desire to explore
  4. Self-control
  5. Creativity
  6. Verbal communication
  7. Decoding non-verbal communication

Memory and improvisation are the two fundamental characteristics of intelligence – the ability to record information (also referred to as “crystalised intelligence”) and the ability to adapt that information to new scenarios (also referred to as “fluid intelligence”). What makes one individual more intelligent than another is the ability to recall and adapt that information better than the other individual.

The other five characteristics are not typically measured by IQ tests but they are great predictors for future intelligence:

Desire to Explore

Thousands of experiments confirm that babies learn about their environment through a series of increasingly self-corrected ideas. They experience sensory observations, make predictions about what they observe, design and deploy experiments capable of testing their predictions, evaluate their tests, and add that knowledge to a self-generated, growing database. The style is naturally aggressive, wonderfully flexible, and annoyingly persistent. They use fluid intelligence to extract information, then crystallize it into memory.

An interview of some of the greatest visionaries and innovators of our world revealed that what separated them from the ordinary is the willingness to explore. It is interesting to note that this is a characteristic that all babies are born with and yet, by the time we reach adulthood, many of us have lost it. What happened? I thought the following quote by Hal Gregersen was particularly revealing:

“If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions. But by the time they are 6 ½ years old, they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they’re grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them. Eighty percent of executives spend less than 20 percent of their time on discovering new ideas”.

Bottom line is if you want your child to be an innovator and a visionary, encourage his curiosity and welcome his questions (no matter how annoying those “whys” can get).


And we’re back to the topic of self-control and executive function. Self-control is simply one of the behaviours expressed in children with high executive function, and executive function has been shown to be a significantly better predictor for academic success than IQ:

“children who could delay gratification for 15 minutes scored 210 points higher on their SATs than children who lasted one minute.”

Innate self-control varies from individual to individual. For some it is easier, for others it is more challenging. However, the bottom line remains the same – those who could control their impulses better, fared better. The good news is that there are many ways you can help your child to develop self-control.


What exactly is creativity? According to researchers, creativity has a few core components:

  • ability to perceive new relationships between old things
  • to conjure up ideas or things or whatever that do not currently exist
  • it must evoke emotions, positive or negative, in someone else
  • it must create something from the process – a product or a result
  • it usually involves cold, calculated risk-taking

If you want to predict your child’s creativity, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking has be shown to be quite accurate in predicting a child’s future creative output.

How can you develop your child’s creativity? Check out the following posts:

Verbal Communication

Babies are born with the ability to speak any language. They are able to distinguish the sounds of any language. Unfortunately, they begin to lose this ability by the time they are a year old and can only recognise the sounds from languages they have been exposed to in the last 6 months.

What can you do to keep that door from closing? Speak to your child in another multiple languages before your child hits the one year mark. Unfortunately, it has to be spoken by a live person through social interactions, therefore audio or even video recordings don’t cut it.

See also:

Decoding Non-verbal Communication

Another predictor for future success, and a characteristic of innovators and visionaries, is the ability to decode non-verbal communication. In other words, the ability to decipher gestures and facial expressions. There are three ways to help you baby develop his ability to decode non-verbal communication:

  1. Sign language
  2. Face time – babies love gazing at the faces of other humans because it helps them learn about emotions so the best thing you can do is give your baby lots of face time.
  3. Lessons from Paul Ekman

For more information about early childhood predictors for intelligence, check out Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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