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Science-Backed Ways to Help Your Child Succeed



We all worry about our kids. However, ever since the term “helicopter parenting” was coined, along with woeful reports about how it’s crippling kids, none of us want to obsessively hover over our kids to defend them from the world every step of the way, either.

There’s no silver bullet for parenting. Nothing that I can tell you will be the perfect solution for every parent and child out there. However, we can track trends in parenting and see which methods most often help children overcome future challenges and succeed in life. So how can you help your child succeed? Let me tell you right now: it’s not all about making sure that they’re set up with a trust, or finagling an entry into that super-hoity-toity private school so they can be on the Ivy-League route at age 5.

So much of it is about opening up unique opportunities for your child and giving them the room to thrive on their own.

Here are some science-backed ways that you can help your child succeed:


Teach Them to Delay Gratification

The landmark “marshmallow study” illustrated the importance of self-control as an early key to future success. Briefly stated, the study tested a number of preschool children. They could have one marshmallow right away, or wait 15 minutes and get two marshmallows. It was found that children who had the willpower to wait 15 minutes demonstrated more success later in life: lower rates of destructive behavior and divorce, better health and better SAT scores. Think about how rare an attribute self-control and delayed gratification is now, in a world where children expect instant gratification more and more. The ability to resist something they want now for something they want in the future can give your child a huge leg up.

How did the kids manage to resist the allure of the marshmallow? Those who held out for 15 minutes found creative ways to distract themselves, turning their chairs, moving the marshmallow away, and singing songs. These are skills that can be taught at an early age and have powerful ramifications later in life.


Save for the Future, but Don’t Take Things for Granted

One of the best ways that you can teach this principle of self-control is by demonstrating it yourself. Plan your finances so that you’ll be able to give your children the opportunities you want the most for them. Here are some ideas to help you plan early on for your child’s college tuition. However, make sure that your child understands the value of money and the importance of frugal living, instead of taking the opportunities that you give them for granted. Instead of including frivolous luxuries in your budget, save up for things that really benefit your child, like eye-opening travel opportunities. Let them know when you deny them a treat now and then, it’s because you’re putting that money towards a more important goal for them.

Give Them Positive Models 

Children with two parents who graduated from college are more than three times as likely to go to college themselves. People who go into the military are 5 times more likely to have a parent who served. Why is this? It’s because we’re powerfully influenced by the models that we see when we’re growing up. So does that mean that if you didn’t go to college or get a high-paying job your child is doomed?

Of course not! However, you can greatly increase your child’s chances of prosperity and success by exposing them to prosperity and success in close quarters. Additionally, this grants your child the opportunity to understand different possibilities for their future and truly choose a path that will suit them best, instead of just the one that seems the most accessible.

What can you do? Reach out to friends and see if you can give your kids shadowing opportunities, or internships as they get older. So much of what holds us back is simply not knowing how to take the next step, and being bewildered by the unknown.


Life Skills Are Often More Important than Grades

In a recent book by Paul Tough, he examines how the factors that determine whether a child will succeed or fail in life have less to do with academics and more to do with non-academic skills. Things like curiosity, compassion, emotional intelligence, social skills, grit and determination.

Now, teaching those things is pretty difficult. And again, there is not a single magic formula. But remember this while you’re raising your kids. High scores won’t protect them from relationship troubles. A scholarship into college doesn’t guarantee that they’ll make it clear through four years. And being “a pleasure to have in class” won’t make them succeed in the business world. It’s your responsibility, not just to make sure that their schooling is adequate, but that their education outside of school is teaching essential life skills. Praise their victories and evidence of growth outside of the class too, even if it’s not as easily quantifiable.

Teach Them How to Deal with Stress

It might seem laughable at first. After all, what do little kids have to stress about? All of their needs are met. They don’t have debts and mortgages hanging over them. They don’t drive, worry about relationships (until later), or worry that they might lose their jobs.

However, the truth is that life is very stressful for kids. They’re in a constant state of flux, since development brings wave after wave of internal change. Their social circle is always rotating. And the pressure of modern schooling systems sets in at a very early age. As your child continues to succeed, things will only get more and more stressful. Teach your child coping techniques so that they can channel stress in a healthy way, especially as they get older. It’s estimated that teens today have higher levels of anxiety than at any other period of time, and several studies have found that over half of college students are burdened with major stress-and-anxiety-related challenges.


Adapt to Disappointments as They Come

There’s one thing that we often neglect when we’re planning out ways to help our children: we don’t envision what we’ll do when things go wrong. What if your child struggles with a mental illness or addiction? What if they deal with trauma that throws their life off-course? What if trouble in the family has kids acting out, or your child has more of a challenge in school than you thought they would? This article has some good advice for dealing with scary challenges like that. It’s important to remember not to buy in to the blame game, and to take care of yourself as well as your child.

Challenges crop up in everyone’s life at some point. And the problem itself matters much less than how you as a parent react to it. Remember to exercise forgiveness, and self-care as well as nurturing towards your child. Your child will inevitably come across similarly difficult challenges when they’re an adult, and they’ll look back to your model when they’re deciding how to cope. Remember that there’s no one path to success. Sometimes what seems like a setback is actually an advantage. Be adaptable and teach your child to do the same.


Annmarie John
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