May 6, 2016, 2:09 PM
Richard Branson and his mother, Eve.Clive Rose/Getty Images
Good parents want their kids to stay out of trouble, do well in school, and go on to do awesome things as adults.
And while there isn't a set recipe for raising successful children, psychology research has pointed to a handful of factors that predict success.
Unsurprisingly, much of it comes down to the parents.
Here's what parents of successful kids have in common:
"If kids aren't doing the dishes, it means someone else is doing that for them," Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and author of "How to Raise an Adult" said during a TED Talks Liveevent.
"And so they're absolved of not only the work, but of learning that work has to be done and that each one of us must contribute for the betterment of the whole," she said.
Lythcott-Haims believes kids raised on chores go on to become employees who collaborate well with their coworkers, are more empathetic because they know firsthand what struggling looks like, and are able to take on tasks independently.
She bases this on the Harvard Grant Study, the longest longitudinal study ever conducted.
"By making them do chores — taking out the garbage, doing their own laundry — they realize I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life," she tells Tech Insider.
Fiona Goodall / Stringer / Getty Images
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Duke University tracked more than 700 children from across the US between kindergarten and age 25 and found a significant correlation between their social skills as kindergartners and their success as adults two decades later.
The 20-year study showed that socially competent children who could cooperate with their peers without prompting, be helpful to others, understand their feelings, and resolve problems on their own, were far more likely to earn a college degree and have a full-time job by age 25 than those with limited social skills.
Those with limited social skills also had a higher chance of getting arrested, binge drinking, and applying for public housing.
"This study shows that helping children develop social and emotional skills is one of the most important things we can do to prepare them for a healthy future," said Kristin Schubert, program director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the research, in a release.
"From an early age, these skills can determine whether a child goes to college or prison, and whether they end up employed or addicted."
Using data from a national survey of 6,600 children born in 2001, University of California at Los Angeles professor Neal Halfon and his colleagues discovered that the expectations parents hold for their kids have a huge effect on attainment.
"Parents who saw college in their child's future seemed to manage their child toward that goal irrespective of their income and other assets," he said in a statement.
The finding came out in standardized tests: 57% of the kids who did the worst were expected to attend college by their parents, while 96% of the kids who did the best were expected to go to college.
This falls in line with another psych finding: The Pygmalion effect, which states "that what one person expects of another can come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy."
In the case of kids, they live up to their parents' expectations.
Robert Hughes Jr., professor and head of the Department of Human and Community Development in the College of ACES at the University of Illinois and study review author, also notes that some studies have found children in nonconflictual single-parent families fare better than children in conflictual two-parent families.
The conflict between parents prior to divorce also affects children negatively, while post-divorce conflict has a strong influence on children's adjustment, Hughes says.
One study found that, after divorce, when a father without custody has frequent contact with his kids and there is minimal conflict, children fare better. But when there is conflict, frequent visits from the father are related to poorer adjustment of children.
Yet another study found that 20-somethings who experienced divorce of their parents as children still report pain and distress over their parent's divorce 10 years later. Young people who reported high conflict between their parents were far more likely to have feelings of loss and regret.
A 2014 study lead by University of Michigan psychologist Sandra Tang found that mothers who finished high school or college were more likely to raise kids that did the same.
Pulling from a group of over 14,000 children who entered kindergarten in 1998 to 2007, the study found that children born to teen moms (18 years old or younger) were less likely to finish high school or go to college than their counterparts.
Aspiration is at least partially responsible. In a 2009 longitudinal study of 856 people in semi-rural New York, Bowling Green State University psychologist Eric Dubow found that "parents' educational level when the child was 8 years old significantly predicted educational and occupational success for the child 40 years later."
A 2007 meta-analysis of 35,000 preschoolers across the US, Canada, and England found that developing math skills early can turn into a huge advantage.
"The paramount importance of early math skills — of beginning school with a knowledge of numbers, number order, and other rudimentary math concepts — is one of the puzzles coming out of the study," coauthor and Northwestern University researcher Greg Duncan said in a press release. "Mastery of early math skills predicts not only future math achievement, it also predicts future reading achievement."
A 2014 study of 243 people born into poverty found that children who received "sensitive caregiving" in their first three years not only did better in academic tests in childhood, but had healthier relationships and greater academic attainment in their 30s.
As reported on PsyBlog, parents who are sensitive caregivers "respond to their child's signals promptly and appropriately" and "provide a secure base" for children to explore the world.
"This suggests that investments in early parent-child relationships may result in long-term returns that accumulate across individuals' lives," coauthor and University of Minnesota psychologist Lee Raby said in an interview.
According to recent research cited by Brigid Schulte at The Washington Post, the number of hours that moms spend with kids between ages 3 and 11 does little to predict the child's behavior, well-being, or achievement.
What's more, the "intensive mothering" or "helicopter parenting" approach can backfire.
"Mothers' stress, especially when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, that may actually be affecting their kids poorly," study coauthor and Bowling Green State University sociologist Kei Nomaguchi told The Post.
Emotional contagion — or the psychological phenomenon where people "catch" feelings from one another like they would a cold — helps explain why. Research shows that if your friend is happy, that brightness will infect you; if she's sad, that gloominess will transfer as well. So if a parent is exhausted or frustrated, that emotional state could transfer to the kids.
Where kids think success comes from also predicts their attainment.
Over decades, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has discovered that children (and adults) think about success in one of two ways. Over at the always-fantastic Brain Pickings, Maria Popova says they go a little something like this:
A "fixed mindset" assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens that we can't change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.
A "growth mindset," on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of un-intelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.
At the core is a distinction in the way you assume your will affects your ability, and it has a powerful effect on kids. If kids are told that they aced a test because of their innate intelligence, that creates a "fixed" mindset. If they succeeded because of effort, that teaches a "growth" mindset.
According to research out of Harvard Business School, there are significant benefits for children growing up with mothers who work outside the home.
The study found daughters of working mothers went to school longer, were more likely to have a job in a supervisory role, and earned more money — 23% more compared to their peers who were raised by stay-at-home mothers.
The sons of working mothers also tended to pitch in more on household chores and childcare, the study found — they spent seven-and-a-half more hours a week on childcare and 25 more minutes on housework.
"Role modeling is a way of signaling what's appropriate in terms of how you behave, what you do, the activities you engage in, and what you believe," the study's lead author, Harvard Business School professor Kathleen L. McGinn, told Business Insider.
"There are very few things, that we know of, that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother," she told Working Knowledge.
Tragically, one-fifth of American children grow up in poverty, a situation that severely limits their potential.
It's getting more extreme. According to Stanford University researcher Sean Reardon, the achievement gap between high- and low-income families "is roughly 30% to 40% larger among children born in 2001 than among those born 25 years earlier."
As "Drive" author Dan Pink has noted, the higher the income for the parents, the higher the SAT scores for the kids.
"Absent comprehensive and expensive interventions, socioeconomic status is what drives much of educational attainment and performance," he wrote.
First published in the 1960s, research by University of California at Berkeley developmental psychologist Diana Baumride found there are basically three kinds of parenting styles [pdf]:
Permissive: The parent tries to be non-punitive and accepting of the child
Authoritarian: The parent tries to shape and control the child based on a set standard of conduct
Authoritative: The parent tries to direct the child rationally
The ideal is the authoritative. The kid grows up with a respect for authority, but doesn't feel strangled by it.
A West Point cadet at graduation.
In 2013, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth won a MacArthur "genius" grant for her uncovering of a powerful, success-driving personality trait called grit.
Defined as a "tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals," her research has correlated grit with educational attainment, grade-point average in Ivy League undergrads, retention in West Point cadets, and rank in the US National Spelling Bee.
It's about teaching kids to imagine — and commit — to a future they want to create.
Self-control predicts academic, personal, and economic outcomes, as well as health outcomes. One famous experiment showed that preschool students who demonstrated more self-control had better academic and social outcomes decades later than did those who showed less self-control as young children, including less drug use and higher SAT scores.
Select the environment that will be most beneficial to you. For instance, after the school day ends, students may retreat to their family’s living room, where the temptation of TV might be very strong—or they can go to the library, which is designed to eliminate distractions.
Tweak the environment you find yourself in to obtain your desired outcome. For instance, while in a conference or in class, sit closer to the presenter and/or farther from noisy attendees/classmates. Another strategy can be to place your cell phone out of sight to avoid being distracted during class, work, or meals.
If you find yourself in a distracting or frustrating situation, shift your focus to something that helps you achieve your desired emotional state. This can be either an internal or an external focus. For instance, while in a boring meeting, an external shift would be to track the person who is talking by looking directly at them, rather than staring out the window. An internal approach would be to think about upcoming vacation plans to avoid falling asleep.
Reinterpret the situation to alter your emotional state. For instance, rather than thinking of a mistake as a personal shortcoming or failure, think of mistakes as information that will help you in the future. Also consider framing certain trying situations as opportunities to exercise and grow your willpower.
Think proactively about how you might best respond in a stressful situation, keeping in mind effective practices including deep breathing, suppressing an undesired behavior, or emulating people you admire.
One proven strategy is to plan out IF/THEN scenarios to overcome obstacles. For instance, when trying to stick to a healthy lifestyle, don’t just hope to go to the gym: plan exactly when in the day you will go and specifically what you will do to exercise. The same is true for negative feelings: ”IF I start to feel angry, THEN I will take a deep breath and start counting backward from a 100 (until I calm down and think before I act).”
Another promising strategy is to refer to yourself in the third person when upset (sometimes called the “say your name” strategy).
In students, optimism predicts greater persistence on academic tasks and higher academic achievement. Some research has shown that optimistic teachers are more effective at improving the academic performance of their students, too. Optimism also predicts better physical health and lowers the risk for anxiety and depression.
Optimism reflects the tendencies to: 1) attribute problems to temporary and changeable causes; 2) expect good things from others, the world, and the future, and 3) believe that we can work to overcome obstacles and achieve our goals. Optimism is therefore very closely related to what Carol Dweck and colleagues call growth mindset—the belief that the ability to learn is itself something that can be improved with effort.
Children are more likely to develop optimism when they grow up in caring environments. Parenting behaviors that convey affection predict the development of optimism in children, perhaps because children learn to expect that others will care about them and treat them well.
Some research suggests that children may internalize optimism from their parents. When we encounter problems in our own lives, we can model optimism by conveying our belief that the problems will pass or that we can work to address them. When talking with our children about mistakes they have made or problems they have helped to create, we can focus on the specific behaviors that contributed, especially behaviors they can change.
Optimism also develops through personal experiences of working hard to achieve goals and to overcome challenges. These experiences increase children’s sense of control and competence and demonstrate that effort pays off. The right level of challenge will vary by age and by child. As parents, we can support our children as they take on greater and greater challenges.
Parents naturally want to protect our children from difficult and painful experiences. Yet, these experiences are inevitable. And to some extent they are probably necessary for optimism to develop. It can help to keep in mind that the difficult situations our children encounter can provide opportunities for them to learn that many problems are temporary and surmountable.
Why is Curiosity Important?
Exposure to differing viewpoints contributes to positive psychosocial outcomes, interpersonal relationships, subjective well-being, cognitive development, and, last but not least, good citizenship.
How do I grow curiosity?
Adults should encourage questioning and exploration in themselves and others. Adults can help children by answering children’s questions or pointing children in the direction of where to find answers. When children (or other adults) are about to draw a conclusion, adults should encourage them to look for alternative conclusions and to look for reasons on both sides.
The ability to read, and the habit of exploring multiple sources for information, increases the possibilities for search. Children should be encouraged to read as much as possible and as early as possible, and about the topics that are most interesting to them. Adults should seek to expand the set of written materials that they regularly read (e.g., new websites, magazines, newspapers, etc).
Question your assumptions
Developing curiosity and active open-mindedness means recognizing your own biases and assumptions. Question these just as you begin to question other conclusions that you have already accepted. Do not stop yourself when you want to find out something. Look it up. The Internet now makes this much easier, but of course we also must think about what we find there, with the same sort of active open-mindedness that we apply to our own conclusions.
Why is Grit Important?
Research has shown grit to be predictive of achievement in especially challenging contexts in which stamina is key. For instance, gritty cadets are more likely to persist at West Point Military Academy, gritty students in the Chicago Public schools are more likely to graduate, and gritty competitors are more likely to advance in the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
How do I grow grit?
It’s important to know that there are still a lot of open questions about grit, including the degree to which it is a teachable skill and, to the extent it can be learned, how best to teach it. Though the research about grit is still emerging, we do have some ideas about how you might develop grit.
Cultivate a growth mindset and optimism.
We believe that the idea of grit is related to both optimism and a growth mindset. When you believe that setbacks are temporary and that problems are surmountable with effort and ingenuity, you’ll likely try harder, or try another tactic, when you encounter obstacles.
Challenge yourself in your practice.
Research on world-class experts in music, sports, chess, and other domains suggest that thousands of hours of deliberate practice are necessary to achieve the highest skill level. Often, when we look at those who are successful in their field, we don’t see the hidden hours of gritty and grueling practice it took to get there. We believe that productive practice should focus on weaknesses, feel difficult, be repetitive, and include immediate and informative feedback.
Stay passionate about your purpose.
Grit isn’t just hard work and persistence—it’s also passion for a personally meaningful goal. Determine the topic or activity that captures your attention the most, and work on developing grit in that area. We suggest enhancing your practice and interest by working with role models, coaches, and peers to develop that interest and skill over time.
Know it’s OK to quit.
Not every piano-playing ten-year-old will become a piano-playing twenty-year-old. It’s OK to quit activities, but choose the right time to quit: after you’ve been thoughtful and reflective, and definitely not in a moment of frustration. Gritty people know the difference between the two and quit responsibly.
By helping to improve people’s social relationships, social and emotional learning programs have been shown to enable participants to demonstrate greater enjoyment and stronger performance in school and less risky behavior (including reduced drug use and violence).
It’s important to know that there are still a lot of open questions about social intelligence, including the degree to which it is a teachable skill, and, to the extent it can be learned, how best to teach it. Though the research about social intelligence is still emerging, we do have some ideas about how you might develop social intelligence.
Respond to people in an active and constructive way to build strong relationships. For instance, rather than saying something discouraging or nothing at all to your child, student, co-worker, parent, or friend, follow up on what s/he said with what Dr. Shelly Gable and others call an “active and constructive response.”
Consider integrating social-emotional learning programs that consist of “step-by-step approaches that actively involve students in skills development over extended periods of time and have clear and explicit goals” into your school, and implement them with fidelity.
Zest and vitality correlate with autonomy and relatedness. Vitality may also be both a cause and effect of health and well-being.
It’s important to know that there are still a lot of open questions about zest, including the degree to which it is a teachable skill and, to the extent it can be learned, how best to teach it. Though the research about zest is still emerging, we do have some ideas about how you might develop zest.
Make a concerted effort to exercise because physical activity can increase your energy and vitality.
Get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy breakfast.
Find time to engage with the natural environment, as contact with nature can influence vitality.
Play an active role in your decisions, because greater autonomy tends to lead to greater energy and engagement.
Dr. Jonathan Haidt suggests doing something because you want to do it, not because you have to do it. Find your passion. What do you love to do? If you already know what your passion is, then build time for it in your schedule. If you don’t, then try to discover it. What did you love to do when you were younger? Try it again now.
Why is Gratitude Important?
Studies have shown that people who keep gratitude journals tend to be more physically active, are more optimistic, and have higher reported levels of energy and enthusiasm. Furthermore, grateful people tend to live longer and engage in more pro-social behaviors than do less grateful individuals. Studies show that children and adolescents who practice gratitude are more engaged in school, are more involved in their communities, are less materialistic, have a greater sense of purpose, and are taking better care of their health.
How do I grow gratitude?
It’s important to know that there are still a lot of open questions about gratitude, including the degree to which it is a teachable skill and, to the extent it can be learned, how best to teach it. Though the research about gratitude is still emerging, we do have some ideas about how you might develop gratitude.
Keep a gratitude journal
A group of researchers created an exercise in which individuals wrote down three good things that happened to them that day before going to bed. These can be large or small. Next to each, they jotted down why the good thing happened.
Another group of researchers suggest the following: “There are many things in our lives, large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the past week and write up to five things that happened for which you are grateful or thankful.” Keep these reflections in a character journal and complete this activity at the end of each week.
Write a gratitude letter
The benefits of gratitude letters, along with examples of gratitude activities, can be found in the research of Dr. Robert Emmons, Dr. Chris Peterson, Dr. Martin Seligman, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Dr. Jaime Kurtz. Spend fifteen minutes writing a gratitude letter to a person in your life who you have never properly thanked. This can be thanking him or her for something large or small. Try to be as detailed as possible about what you are thanking her for and the impact it had on you. If possible, deliver the letter in person and read it to them.
Train yourself to substitute grateful thoughts for ungrateful ones
Dr. Timothy Miller developed a four-step behavioral cognitive approach for learning gratitude: 1. Identify non-grateful thoughts. 2. Formulate gratitude-supporting thoughts. 3. Substitute the gratitude-supporting thoughts for the non-grateful thoughts. 4. Translate this gratitude into outward action.
Dr. Charles Shelton suggests reflecting on benefits and blessings in your life and considering ways to give back to others as an appropriate response for the gratitude felt. Naikan therapy, for instance, requires practitioners to reflect on what others have provided to them and what they have given back; in so doing, it creates feelings of gratitude, indebtedness, and the motivation to reciprocate.