You won’t be judged for thinking that if a child is intelligent then he or she will inevitably succeed. But that’s not always the case. According to Paul Tough in his best-selling book, How Children Succeed, what causes some kids to achieve while others do not is less a question of intelligence and more a question of character.
So what can we do as parents to help our kids? The answer is to help them develop the traits that will carry them through school and throughout life. Traits like self-control, optimism, intellectual curiosity, emotional intelligence, and conscientiousness—habits that will cause them to turn off the TV because they have a test the next day or complete a college application without needing reminders from others or having the belief system that working hard will positively impact their life. So how do we cultivate these traits in our kids? Here’s how:
Demonstrate self-control: Kids learn self-control from their first, and perhaps only role models, their parents. And self-control is the biggest determining factor in life outcomes. I got to see a little bit of this while in college. There were those kids who did well and those that didn’t. What separated those two groups was not intelligence, but that some kids were able to put off the things they enjoyed most like hanging out with friends for the things that mattered most like getting good grades and pursuing their dreams. So teach kids how to control impulses through role modeling. Show them how to handle their emotions and how to make sacrifices for the things they want so they can develop these traits as they age.
Think positively and speak positively: Growing up in a religious family, my grandmother always said “life and death is in the power of the tongue.” So speak positively at home about yourself and others to help kids develop habits of positive thinking. Viewing life optimistically is an important part of being successful. It’s difficult to dream or work hard for the things you want if you are unable to picture a more positive future.
Encourage their curiosity: Kids are born with a natural desire to learn so help them maintain that desire. Approaching life as a learner is an important part of being successful. When you are interested in the world and ready to learn new things it increases your potential and makes you more adaptable to change. So encourage your child’s desire to learn by talking to them about things going on in the world and ask them what they think. Give them opportunities to express themselves and invite them to think more critically. Also, give your child more opportunities to learn new things by taking them places they’ve never been and doing things they’ve never done. Like fishing or camping, or take them to a new state or new country or a trip to the museum so they have more opportunities to learn about the world around them.
Enhance their emotional intelligence: Kids learn about people by being around them especially their peers, so set up play dates for young kids or sign up older kids up for team sports and other extracurricular activities so they have more opportunities to socialize. And if you’re fortunate enough to have extended family in your life don’t forget about the best play-date experience of all – cousins!
Teach kids about responsibility early: Encourage older kids to get a summer job and have younger kids help out with chores at home. Learning how to work by showing up and completing a task is a skill that some people never learn. So teach them the value of being responsible and being conscientious now because it is truly the gift that will keep on giving.