The secret to raising smart, successful kids

Have you ever noticed that the person who comes second, third, or even tenth, on reality TV competitions like The X Factor or MasterChef, often achieve greater long-term success than the winner?

Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is the key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that drive and focus is just as (if not more) important. The key to raising smart and successful children is to tap into this understanding.

Which parent would you choose?

Consider these two scenarios. Which parent do you think a child would thrive more with?

Parent 1 believes that you’re born with a certain amount of intelligence or talent, and that’s that. It’s fixed and there’s nothing a child or anyone else can do to change it.

Parent 2 believes that intellect and talent are important building blocks but that both can be developed through education and hard work.

Research tells us over and over again that individuals with a growth mindset like that of parent 2 generally achieve greater success in school and in life in general. Not only do I see this in my students all the time but my current research is also showing me the same thing! And it’s because this kind of mindset is linked to how a person pursues a new or difficult task.

A simple example

A recent study conducted in USA explains this well. Psychologists monitored 373 students for two years during their transition to junior high school when the work gets more difficult and the grading more stringent. The study focused on finding out how the children’s mindsets affected their maths grades.

At the start of junior high, the maths test scores of the students with a growth mindset (like that of parent 2) were on par to those of students who displayed a fixed mind-set (like that of parent 1). But as the work became more difficult, the students with a growth mindset showed greater persistence. As a result, by the middle of the year, their maths grades had overtaken those of the other students. And the gap between the two groups continued to widen during the two years that followed.

This occurs because children with a growth mindset believe that mistakes or not knowing stem from a lack of effort or skills they haven’t yet learnt; not from a lack of fixed ability. Children with a fixed mind set are often fearful of challenges because it may show their level of ability to be lacking. They feel stuck then and unmotivated to learn because they have the mindset that nothing can change their ability.

Tips for parents

These understandings have a lot of implications for raising successful and smart children. Here are three tips:

1. Look for high effort in report cards, and comments by teachers about how much your child has tried. Praise your child for their effort and persistence and encourage them to keep trying.

2. Encourage your child to have a go at new or challenging tasks. Help them to understand that making mistakes is not something to feel bad or apprehensive about, its just part of learning.

3. Help your child to understand that brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with use, and that learning prompts neurons in the brain to grow new connections, which develops it even more. Look up some sites to help with the explanation. Research shows that talking with children about this leads them to seeing themselves as agents of their own brain development. This will motivate them to learn!

On a final note, be a role model. Express positive views of challenges, effort and mistakes you make. Saying things such as, “Wow, this is hard but its fun”, or “Let’s give it a go” encourages effort and builds an fantastic environment of success for your child to build on.