How parents can help their kids be more successful than most: experts


Parents regularly worry about how their children will navigate the world as adults. Will they grow up to be happy and well-adjusted? Will they get a good job and live comfortably?

Every child is different, and everyone develops at their own pace. But some strategies are proven to be more effective than others, when it comes to raising successful children.

Here are five ways parents can help set their kids up for future success, according to psychologists and other parenting experts.

Prioritize self-confidence over self-esteem

You might use “self-confidence” and “self-esteem” interchangeably. But when it comes to raising a successful child, one is more important than the other, educational psychologist Michele Borba wrote for CNBC Make It in 2022.

Self-esteem represents how we view ourselves overall. Self-confidence is a reflection of how confident we are in our own abilities in a given situation. The two concepts are related, but research shows that self-confidence is a better indicator of future success, because it helps firm kids’ beliefs that their skills and efforts will lead to strong outcomes — like getting good grades or performing well in athletics.

“Real self-confidence is an outcome of doing well, facing obstacles, creating solutions and snapping back on your own,” Borba wrote.

Parents can best boost their child’s self-confidence by stepping back and allowing them to succeed or fail on their own, instead of hovering and trying to fix their kid’s problems for them, Borba noted. Doing so can help them learn to dust themselves off and try again if they fail, and believe that they’ll ultimately succeed.

Teach self-control

Self-control helps determine future success, research shows. When kids learn to ignore unnecessary distractions and control their own emotions and behavior, they typically grow up to be smarter and more motivated, according to a decades-long study by researchers at New Zealand’s University of Otago.

“Becoming indistractable is the most important skill for the 21st century — and it’s one that many parents fail to teach their kids,” author and psychology expert Nir Eyal wrote for Make It in 2019.

Eyal recommends starting early. Toddlers can begin to understand the concept of time, which means parents can start explaining the importance of budgeting time to focus on important developmental activities. Kids can even learn self-control through play, including games like freeze tag and “red light, green light.”

Give them autonomy

The ability to self-motivate is one of the two important traits that can help kids grow into successful adults, child psychologist Dr. Tovah Klein told Make It last year. (The other? Confidence.)

Establish expectations for your child, with their input, when it comes to everyday actions like getting themselves ready for school, choosing after-school activities and doing their chores, bestselling author and parenting expert Esther Wojcicki recommends.

“The more you trust your children to do things on their own, the more empowered they’ll be,” Wojcicki wrote for Make It in 2022.

Eyal also suggested using tactics like making “effort pacts” with their kids, where they commit to specific limits on tempting distractions — like a one-hour daily limit on screen time.

Don’t stress over perfection

Wojcicki raised three successful children — a doctor and two high-profile CEOs — but she never demanded perfection from them. That made a big difference, she noted.

Give your children room to fail, treating their mistakes and setbacks with empathy rather than scorn, to help them maintain confidence while learning to view failures as learning opportunities, she advised.

“Mastery means doing something as many times as it takes to get it right … It was the learning and the hard work that I wanted to reward, not getting it right the first time,” she wrote.

Perfectionism doesn’t make your child more likely to succeed in the future, and it can contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and low self-esteem, research shows.

You can teach your kids to reframe how they think about making mistakes by openly discussing errors you’ve made, how you’ve solved problems and what you learned in the process, Bryant University psychology professor Allison Butler told Make It in January.

Talk about financial literacy

It’s never too early to teach your kids about money: how to earn it, spend it wisely and save it while planning for the future. Most U.S. students don’t learn those lessons in school, which can cost them money as adults, according to a 2023 survey by the National Financial Educator’s Council.

Parenting expert Margot Machol Bisnow interviewed the parents of 70 highly accomplished adults for her 2022 book, “Raising an Entrepreneur: How to Help Your Children Achieve Their Dreams.” Teaching financial literacy was a common thread for those parents, she found.

“Although the parents I spoke to never pushed their kids towards pursuing a high-paying job, all of them made an effort to teach their kids about money in one form or another,” Bisnow wrote for Make It in 2022. You could give kids an allowance and insist they save up their own money to spend on items they want, but don’t necessarily need, like a new pair of roller skates, she noted.

You can also try talking to your kids about money in practical, “matter of fact” ways, like discussing how much everyday items cost, says Alexa von Tobel, the Harvard-trained investor and founder of online financial advisory LearnVest.

Teach your kids that money is no more than “a tool to help you live the life you want to,” von Tobel told Make It last month. “Money is not meant to be worshipped. And it’s not meant to be ignored.” 

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