Parents of the Most Successful Kids Do These 10 Things

THParent

Member
Science Says Parents of the Most Successful Kids Do These 10 Things

We all want to lead happy, successful lives. But for parents, there's a time when your priorities shift a bit, and your most important goals start to involve setting your kids up for success and happiness in their own lives. Parental priorities aren't the only factor, of course. There are plenty of stories out there about people who defied the odds and achieved great success despite their parents' involvement, not because of it. Still, scientists and researchers have made a lot of progress studying what the parents of the larger share of successful people have in common. Here are 10 of the most important things those parents do;

1. They move to the best neighborhood they can afford.
Moving can be expensive and disruptive. But parents who want to give their kids a leg up and set them on the road to success will uproot their lives if necessary. The No. 1 thing they can do is to move to a location with good schools, great opportunities, and the chance to grow up with more privileged peers.
This advice is controversial, but it's effective. It's why parents in developing countries try to immigrate to wealthier nations, and it's the thinking behind the advice to "buy the cheapest house you can find in the best neighborhood."

"Buying a neighborhood is probably one of the most important things you can do for your kid," explains Ann Owens, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, who studied how wealthy people use their means to improve their kids' lives effectively.

2. They model and encourage good relationships.
Since 1938, researchers at Harvard University have been studying the choices and experiences of a group of 400 men, all of them students at Harvard.
The project is called the Grant Study, and the group of subjects included President John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee, who later became editor of The Washington Post during Watergate.
After seven-plus decades of surveys, questions, analysis, and study, what's the single thing they came up with that leads to health and happiness? Dr. Robert Waldinger, who had been running the Grant Study since 2003 put it succinctly:
The lessons aren't about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.
So what do parents of successful kids do, armed with that knowledge? It's simple to say and hard to execute: They model good relationships with friends and family, and they encourage their children to nurture their relationships, too.

3. They praise their children the right way.
Parents of successful kids learn to praise in a way that encourages positive lifelong habits. This means praising children for the strategies and processes they use to solve problems, rather than praising them for their innate abilities. This is called Process Praise as opposed to Person Praise. Here's a link to to a synopsis of Carol Dweck's study.

A few simple examples:
Don't praise a child for getting a high grade on a test; praise her for the studying she did, which led to the result.
Don't praise for winning a race or a game; instead, offer praise for all the sweat he put in during practice—again, which led to the result.
Don't say, "You're so smart!" or "You're such a talented singer!" Instead, you want to find a way to say things like, "You did a great job figuring out that problem," or, "You sound so great—all those hours of practice paid off!"
The goal is always to encourage kids to develop a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset. As an example, Dweck suggests thinking of Albert Einstein. If you think, "Einstein was brilliant," that would reflect a fixed mindset; observing instead that Einstein figured out how to solve some very difficult problems would reflect a growth mindset.

4. They encourage them to do scut work.
A couple of years ago, Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and the author of the book, How To Raise an Adult, said one of the best pieces of advice she had for parents was to make their kids do chores-and to never do their homework for them.
"Teach them the skills they'll need in real life, and give them enough leash to practice those skills on their own," said Lythcott-Haims, who based her conclusions on the Harvard Grant Study (from No. 2, above). "Chores build a sense of accountability."

From my own experience:
After my DS graduated from High School and before he reported to I-Day at USNA, (a pretty short Summer vacation) it had rained quite a lot, and before my wife and I both left for work, she asked him to "clean out the gutters", along with a list of chores he was expected to complete before the end of the day. What she meant by "gutters" referred to the two (2) storm inlets in the concrete gutters in the street, which tend to get log-jams of debris at their mouths, after a hard rain. It's a 5-minute job. What he interpreted was clean out all the gutters on our 2-story house. It took him three (3) hours and was a difficult job on ladders and three different roof elevations. We all laughed about it later ( he did a great job, by the way), but by that time, our job was pretty much done. He was 17 years old, and had been so conditioned by us to do scut work, that he didn't even question the task he was given, and set about doing it.

5. They ensure their kids know they will always support them.
I don't mean that you'll always support them financially. When they are adults, you need to kick them out of the nest.

Instead, this is the hotly-debated subject as to whether parents should encourage their kids to "suck it up" when they are hurt or suffer setbacks, or instead "run to their side."

Surprisingly, (to me, anyway) the science supports the "run to their side" style of parenting. It's about responding supportively—while not solving all your kids' problems for them. "Parents who respond to their children's emotions in a comforting manner have kids who are more socially well-adjusted than do parents who either tell their kids they are overreacting or who punish their kids for getting upset," says child psychologist Nancy Eisenberg of Arizona State University.

From my own experience:
I'm not sure how much of this I did with my DS in his formative years. I am a Marine, so I would wager that more often than not, I told him to embrace the suck.
I don't get upset, so by extension I don't recall my DS ever getting upset. I recall his childhood as being pretty uneventful in the whole drama realm.

6. They help them to become resilient.
Resilience, defined as "the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness," is an underpinning of success. It's what allows people to, as Sir Winston Churchill put it, "go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."
That undaunted attitude is what allows them to work through problems without fear of coming up short—exactly the behavior that the "praise for the effort" tactic that Carol Dweck advises is designed to develop. So how do you help kids to develop resiliency? Set an example, trust your children to solve many of their own problems, and encourage risk-taking while also asserting your authority as a parent when it's sensible.

7. They advocate for them at school.
This next bit of science-backed advice requires some judgment. On the one hand, it's important to let kids solve their own problems when possible. On the other hand, your job as a parent requires you to act like an authority figure and a determined advocate.
Nowhere is this more true than in the schools. A 45-year longevity study called the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth found that schools often ignore the most talented students, in favor of trying to increase the performance of more average pupils.
This all comes from a misguided belief that gifted students will achieve on their own—even in spite of a strict educational system that doesn't serve them well. Unfortunately, it's a huge societal mistake. The only real antidote is parental involvement and advocacy.

From my own experience:
My wife and I went to all my DS' parent-teacher conferences. We did this, because that's what our parents did, and because we were interested in how he was doing in school. Until my DS went to USNA, he never got less than an "A" in anything, ever. Because of that, when we showed up for the parent-teacher conferences, the teachers were bewildered at first. They were all of the mindset that we didn't need to come, because who they really needed to see were the parents of the "problem kids". Those parents almost never showed up, and we saw the pattern and had to educate the teachers as to why we were there. We knew he never missed a point on a test. We knew he would get all "A"s on his report card. What we were interested in was how he interacted with other kids and if he showed leadership and compassion for them. After a while, the teachers got used to seeing us and realized that we weren't content with just the perfect grades. We were endaevoring to raise a good human, and all aspects of that were important to us. We had the same issue with teachers in Middle School and then again in High School, but once they got what we were doing, they were glad to see us. We still keep in contact with several of them, many years later.

8. They remind them (ahem) of their high expectations for them.
Of all the research on parenting, this one seems to prompt the most polarized responses.
Researchers at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom found that parents who set super-high expectations for their teenage daughters—and who constantly reminded them of those expectations—had daughters who were less likely to become pregnant, drop out of school, or wind up in lousy, low-wage jobs.
In other words: nag more; ultimately succeed more.
Although the study focused specifically on girls, it didn't exclude the likelihood that such high-tempo reminders would have a similar positive effect for boys.

From my own experience:
My wife and I made it clear early on to our DS, that knowledge is power. He had one job in school. He was to learn, absorb, question, and apply reason to everything he experienced, be it in the classroom or on the playing field. He was to get the best grades and test scores possible, pay his way through college, and bring honor to himself and his family above all else. If he did that (with volunteer work and some chores around the house) we would take care of everything else. We made it clear that he lived in the USA, and that meant that he could do anything and be anything that he wanted, but he would have to work hard for it. For all our shortcomings as a country and a society, I still believe that.

9. They hope that they marry the right person.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote recently:
I have had more than a little bit of luck in life, but nothing equals in magnitude my marriage to Martin D. Ginsburg. I betray no secret in reporting that, without him, I would not have gained a seat on the Supreme Court.
Science backs her up. As Jeff Haden has written, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that marrying the right person leads people to "perform better at work, earning more promotions, making more money, and feeling more satisfied with their jobs."
Unless you're living in a society with arranged marriages, however, this is much more about your children's choices than anything you can do for them as a parent. Still, you can do your best to model a good marriage relationship and simply make sure they understand that the choice of who to spend your life with is probably the most important choice most people make.

From my own experience:
My Mom and Dad should have never been married. He was an abusive drunk and when he died, I didn't even go to the funeral. The truth is, I can't even tell you when he died. I think it was 2007, but honestly cannot remember. The good news (for my Mom) is that my parents got divorced when I was 11 years old. It took me many years past that age to realize that my Dad was a crappy Dad and a worse husband. You know, because he was my Dad, and I used to think he was great. What he taught me in those 11 short years was how not to be, so thanks Dad.

I was pretty successful when I met my wife, but that pales in comparison as to how things are now after a quarter-century of marriage. I attribute that to her, and I attribute the fact that she stayed with me through thick and thin because I learned from my Dad how not to be. I could not support the fact that marrying the right person is the most important thing you can do, more wholeheartedly. It is paramount.

10. They encourage them to act like entrepreneurs
While we know that money is not the key to happiness, a lack of money can certainly sometimes lead to misery. We all know people who are less successful than they'd otherwise be because they spend their entire lives chasing enough money to live. They have to make long-term decisions based on short-term financial considerations.
So how do you help your children to grow up to avoid this trap? Financial literacy is important, but so is encouraging them to act entrepreneurially. A few months ago, I asked 118 successful entrepreneurs if they could point to a habit or an experience that was responsible for their success?
A whopping 110 out of the 118—93 percent—said the answer was simple: It was that they'd been encouraged to act like entrepreneurs by their parents and had gotten started when they were still young.
 
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kinnem

Moderator
5-Year Member
@THParent Thanks! What a great post, especially the comments on your own experience. I know I fell down on at least some of those as a parent, but somehow (thanks to my wife) my kid turned out to be a great human being who I admire and respect. Your post reminded me, once again, of that.
 

Capt MJ

10-Year Member
Excellent post.

As I look back at things my parents did or didn’t do, one of the things I most appreciated was they included me in age-appropriate family discussions early on about money matters. Where money came from, where it went, needs vs. wants, keeping track of it, starting saving early, having a plan, taking early about how college would be funded, setting expectations. Chores were family work; you were expected to do your chores and anything else requested. No pay for chores, just a set allowance for spending money. For gifts coming in at Christmas, gently used outgrown toys and clothing were expected to be donated after Thanksgiving. No discussion except about what was going to go, not if. Being consistent in the messaging. Being good listeners, but reserving decision authority for themselves.

My parents’ relationship, I see clearly in retrospect, was the central core of the family. They paid attention to their marriage, and didn’t let kid things rock that central commitment to each other. I’ve seen too often during our 20+ years of sponsoring USNA mids, marriages falling apart during those years, as parents who had over-invested and involved themselves in kids’ lives realized, as the nest emptied, they had not tended to their own relationship as the primary in the family.

My parents also allowed me to fail and figure it out. My dad was the patient one, asking me questions designed to lead me to assessing, analyzing, planning and executing the solution or fix to my failure. He praised my effort, resisted telling me what to do, and was always even-tempered.

Lastly, I have come to truly appreciate my father was one of the kindest, most decent humans on the planet. At his funeral, all kinds of people came up to me repeating this theme and sharing a story. My mom was kind too, but much more brisk about it. She was a “doer,” completely organized, with a powerful mind and a will that could get through any obstacle. They modeled these traits for me, and I like to think I absorbed some portion of them. I think parents should always remember what they are modeling to their children in their interactions within and without the family.
 

OldRetSWO

USNA 78/parent 11/BGO for >25yrs
5-Year Member
I'll add a few thoughts.

By the time a kid is in Middle School, they should be responsible enough to get up at the right time and know when to leave the house to get to school. Certainly/definitely by high school. If you're driving them or involved with transportation, they should be tell YOU that its time to go, school is THEIR responsibility. High School students need to be responsible for their OWN academic projects and homework. If you're waking your high school student up, managing their long range term paper schedule, or studying for exams, etc, you're not a bad person but it is not good for them in learning how to "adult".

As for advocating for them at school, I have fellow professors who have not only had parents come and see them during office hours to complain about assignments and grades and even go on to the Department Chair when the Professor did not back down. I hope that Capt MJ never had Mid parents come in to advocate for their precious little ones!
 

THParent

Member
OldRetSWO said:
...As for advocating for them at school, I have fellow professors who have not only had parents come and see them during office hours to complain about assignments and grades and even go on to the Department Chair when the Professor did not back down. I hope that Capt MJ never had Mid parents come in to advocate for their precious little ones!...
I am with you there. My parenting style has often run a little counter to what the science shows. I would have just said "suck it up, buttercup".
 

Capt MJ

10-Year Member
I'll add a few thoughts.

By the time a kid is in Middle School, they should be responsible enough to get up at the right time and know when to leave the house to get to school. Certainly/definitely by high school. If you're driving them or involved with transportation, they should be tell YOU that its time to go, school is THEIR responsibility. High School students need to be responsible for their OWN academic projects and homework. If you're waking your high school student up, managing their long range term paper schedule, or studying for exams, etc, you're not a bad person but it is not good for them in learning how to "adult".

As for advocating for them at school, I have fellow professors who have not only had parents come and see them during office hours to complain about assignments and grades and even go on to the Department Chair when the Professor did not back down. I hope that Capt MJ never had Mid parents come in to advocate for their precious little ones!
I had plenty of parents call me when I was a BattO. A whole chestful of sea stories there. Helicopter parenting wasn’t a term yet, but the behavior was growing, as well as the trend to calling their Congressperson to start Congressional inquiries.
 

NJROTC-CC

Member
Great posts. I do my best to lead my family by example. I try to show DS what is expected, what makes a person successful, etc. However, the bottom line is: You can do your best to show your child the path. But then, he or she must walk down that path by himself or herself. Not every young person is self-motivated enough at age 14-18 to do all the things that are required to gain entry into a service academy. In my DS's case, I know he is smart enough in school, but he is very social and athletic, and not all that academic. He is always busy with some productive activity, but I am wondering if he has enough interest to hit the books as much as he needs to do. If he wanted to get straight A's, I think he could. But that is up to him. I will not force him to spend "X" number of hours a day studying. That has to come from within. If he does not get into his college of first choice, he will have to prove himself in Plan B, C, D or E.
 

Old Navy BGO

5-Year Member
As for advocating for them at school, I have fellow professors who have not only had parents come and see them during office hours to complain about assignments and grades and even go on to the Department Chair when the Professor did not back down. I hope that Capt MJ never had Mid parents come in to advocate for their precious little ones!
Really good post...and yes, I feel a little crappy too ! :) I will admit, I followed my Dad's model and what worked on me 60's and 70's, didn't always translate well to daughters these days. That said, my kids have turned out well despite me (much thanks to my wife !).

I was the polar opposite of the helicopter parent. Sure, I was there for my daughters, and always attended Parent teacher conferences and proofread/edited a lot of papers, but my wife and kids knew that I wasn't going to get down in the mud and deal with petty issues. That made it even more meaningful and effective when I did. I can count on one hand the times that I had to get involved in school issues...one is particularly notable; my daughter worked for for weeks on a paper, and then never got any feedback on it.. no sign that the teacher even read it, ..just a grade This was the final straw in a number of issue with this teacher, so we called for a meeting with this teacher and the Principal. She showed up late , and appeared to me to be strung out or under the influence of something. I exercised great restraint as that teacher lied to my face, but had an very direct conversation with the principal when she left. A couple years later, one of my law partners came in after a hearing where the teacher was terminated, and told me that he knew the situation was serious when he saw that I had gotten involved.
 

THParent

Member
I realized that we got really lucky with #1. We picked a house based on the house and the land and the trees. We moved into that house and didn't start our family until five years later. As it turned out, we did live in a good spot and the public school was a good school, with dedicated teachers and only 3/4 of a mile away. Pure luck, plain and simple. A lot of parenting is just that.
 
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