How to Really Help Your Child Succeed

Parents today are on the receiving end of hype and pressure about getting their kids on the fast track to success. Ironically, all this messaging about the importance of early “achievements” and résumé building can create a distorted view of how to raise children. Here are three areas of focus to help buck the trend and “future-proof” your child. Give them experiences—backed by science and best clinical practices—they really need to help define and pursue their eventual successes.

Let Kids Use Their Senses to Explore and Manipulate Their World


  • Kids have a fundamental need to explore and manipulate their world. Consider integrating the following illustrative principles into your child’s life: 
  • Give babies ample opportunity for face-to-face interaction with you. They study faces to learn about emotions and language.
  • Let babies use their developing motor skills to touch and hold objects, which develops higher-order cognitive processes such as understanding three-dimensional space.
  • Toddlers need to use their fine-motor abilities to touch and manipulate material, which sets a platform (both physically and cognitively) for school readiness (think about the motor skills needed to learn how to write letters).
  • Encourage physical construction (building with blocks and creating with Play-doh) without too much adult instruction. This helps develop the ability to experience and understand cause and effect.
  • Permit kids to test out their ideas (without criticism) when playing and creating. Support them as they come up with alternate solutions, which helps develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.


Cultivate Personal Attributes


  • It’s important to keep in mind that eventual success doesn’t just depend on ability and prior achievement. A hyper-focus on racking up résumé-worthy accomplishments can lead to decreased opportunities for developing personal attributes shared by most successful people. There are a number of traits that help kids succeed in school and beyond:
  •  Don’t underestimate the importance of optimism. Acknowledge whatever problems your child is having in the moment (e.g., difficulty tying her shoes; learning her letters), help her understand what the next realistic step would be (e.g., swinging and hitting a baseball rather than expecting a home run), and give her the support to work towards that next step.
  • Too much emphasis is placed on the immediate win or loss in any situation. Focus on the small victories to develop a sense of efficacy and work toward reaching the next level. Staying on the bike for 10 seconds longer than the last time (once the training wheels come off) is a victory, not a defeat.
  • Worrying too much about failure makes kids afraid to try new things and seek out opportunities. Encourage them to take on the unknown (e.g., take a role in the school play; play a new sport), roll with the outcome, and, most importantly, learn from the experience.
  • Kids today can have extraordinary achievements, but developing an inflated ego and sense of entitlement will not serve them well. Have kids share household responsibilities—let them pitch in as they best can. Doing the dishes, taking care of a pet, cleaning up the house and learning to work together does the trick.


Promote People Skills

Overscheduling activities and focusing myopically on grades can lead to an over-prepared young adult who gets bypassed for opportunities because she doesn’t know how to conduct herself in an interview. You can promote a number of essential people skills at home:


  • Talk about your emotions and how others feel. Helping kids understand that others have thoughts and feelings fosters empathy and compassion.
  • Encourage them to express their thoughts with you and others. Let them say “thank you” rather than doing it for them. Have them join in during conversations you are having with adults. Encourage them to talk directly to their pediatrician at a young age and answer questions about their health.
  • Model proactive conflict resolution with your kids. Teach them to exchange viewpoints and look for solutions rather than just trying to get their own way.
  • Help them understand the value of serving others. Success is often a result of filling a need or providing something to people that makes their life better. Get in the habit of volunteering; it’s a great platform for learning about how to do for others.



Richard Rende, Ph.D., is the co-author with Jen Prosek of Raising Can-Do Kids: Giving Children the Tools to Thrive in a Fast-Changing World. Rende is a developmental psychologist and an associate research professor at Brown University Medical School.


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