These 7 skills separate successful kids from struggling ones: Psychologist and Parenting Expert
When I started my career teaching at-risk children, most of my students lived in poverty, suffered from abuse, or had learning, emotional or physical difficulties. I wanted to find ways to help them succeed.
As an educational psychologist, I learned a very important lesson: Thrivers are made, not born. Children need a safe, loving and structured childhood, but they also need autonomy, competence and agency to thrive.
After sifting through loads of research on the traits most strongly correlated with maximizing children’s flourishing abilities, I’ve identified seven skills children need to build mental toughness, resilience, social skills, awareness of self and their moral strength – and it is these that separate the successful children who shine from those who struggle:
Most parents equate self-esteem with self-confidence. They tell their children “You are special” or “You can be whatever you want”.
But there is little evidence that boosting self-esteem increases academic achievement or even genuine happiness. Studies show, however, that children who attribute their grades to their own efforts and strengths do better than children who believe they have no control over academic performance.
True self-confidence is the result of doing well, facing obstacles, creating solutions and taking control of yourself. Solving your child’s problems or doing chores for them only makes them think, “They don’t believe I can.”
Confident kids know they can fail but also bounce back, and that’s why we need to break free from hovering, snow removal, and rescue.
This strength of character has three distinct types: affective empathy, when we share the feelings of the other and feel their emotions; behavioral empathy, when empathic concern drives us to act with compassion; and cognitive empathy, when we understand the thoughts of others or put ourselves in their shoes.
Children need an emotional vocabulary to develop empathy. Here is how parents can teach this:
- Label the emotions: Intentionally name emotions in context to help them build an emotional vocabulary: “You’re happy!” “You seem upset.”
- To ask questions: “How did that make you feel?” “You look scared. Am I right ? Help your child recognize that all feelings are normal. The way we choose to express them is what can get us into trouble.
- Share your emotions: Children need opportunities to express their feelings safely. Create that space by sharing your own emotions: “I haven’t slept much, so I’m irritable.” “I’m frustrated with this book.”
- Notice the others: Show people’s faces and body language at the library or park: “How do you think this man is feeling?” “Have you ever felt this?”
The ability to control your attention, emotions, thoughts, actions and desires is one of the the strengths most strongly correlated to success – and a surprising untapped secret to helping kids bounce back and thrive.
One way to teach self-control is to give signals. Some children find it difficult to change orientation between activities. That’s why teachers use “attention cues” like ringing a bell or verbal cues: “Pencils down, eyes up.”
Develop a signal, train together, then expect attention! A few: “I need your attention in a minute.” “Ready to listen? »
Another technique is to use stress breaks. Slowing down gives them time to think. Teach your child a “pause prompt” to remind them to stop and think before they act:
- “If you’re angry, count to 10 before you respond.”
- “When in doubt: stop, think, calm down.”
- “Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want people to say about you.”
Integrity is a set of learned beliefs, abilities, attitudes, and skills that create a moral compass that children can use to help them know – and do – what is right.
Laying out our own expectations is a huge part of the puzzle. But it is equally important to give them space to develop their own moral identity parallel to ours and separate from ours.
It also helps to recognize and praise ethical behavior when your child displays it so that they recognize that you appreciate them. Call out the integrity, then describe the action so your child knows what they’ve done to earn the recognition.
Using the word “because” makes your eulogy more specific: “It showed integrity because you refused to pass on that gossip.” “You showed integrity because you kept your promise to go with your friend even though you had to give up the slumber party!”
Curiosity is the recognition, pursuit, and desire to explore new, challenging, and uncertain events.
To help children develop their curiosity, I like to use toys, gadgets and open-ended games. Give them paint, yarn, and popsicle sticks to create constructions. Or gift paperclips and pipe cleaners and challenge your kids to see how many unusual ways they can use them.
Another method is to model curiosity. Instead of saying “That won’t work”, try “Let’s see what happens!” Instead of giving answers, ask, “What do you think? ” “How do you know?” “How can you know that?” »
Finally, whether you’re reading a book, watching a movie, or just walking past someone, use “I wonder” questions: “I wonder where she’s going.” “I wonder why they do that.” “I wonder what happens next.”
Perseverance helps kids keep going when everything else makes it easy to give up.
Mistakes can keep children from getting to the end and succeeding. So don’t let your child catastrophize his problem. Instead, help them focus and identify their stumble.
Some children drop out because they feel overwhelmed with “all the problems” or “all their homework.” Breaking tasks into smaller parts helps children who have difficulty concentrating or getting started.
You can teach your daughter to “cut the pieces”, for example by covering all her math problems with a sheet of paper, except for the top row. Lower the covered paper into the next row and the next as each row is completed.
Older children can write each task on a sticky note, in order of difficulty, and complete one task at a time. Encourage him to do the hardest part first so he doesn’t stress out all night. Confidence and perseverance develop when children complete larger pieces on their own.
Optimistic children view challenges and obstacles as temporary and surmountable, so they are more likely to succeed.
But there is a radically opposite point of view: pessimism. Pessimistic children see challenges as permanent, like blocks of cement that cannot be moved, and so they are more likely to quit.
Teaching children optimism starts with us. Children embrace our words as their inner voices, so over the next few days listen to your typical messages and assess the perspectives you offer your children.
On average, would you say that you are generally more pessimistic or optimistic? Do you usually describe things as positive or negative? half full or empty; Good or bad; through rose or blue tinted glasses? Would your friends and family say the same about you?
If you find yourself leaning to the half-empty side, remember that change begins with looking in the mirror. If you see pessimism, write down why becoming more optimistic would help.
Change is hard, but it’s important to model what you want your child to learn.
Michele Borba, EdD, is an educational psychologist, parenting expert and author of “Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine” and “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our About Me World.” She lives in Palm Springs, California, with her husband, and is the mother of three sons. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and instagram.