Science says parents of successful kids have these 13 things in common
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:
1. They make their kids do chores.
“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 Live event.
“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.
3. They have high expectations.
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.
4. They have healthy relationships with each other.
Children in high-conflict families, whether intact or divorced, tend to fare worse than children of parents that get along, according to a University of Illinois study review.
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.
5. They’ve attained higher educational levels.
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 semirural 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.”
6. They teach their kids math early on.
Flickr/tracy the astonishing
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.”
7. They develop a relationship with their kids.
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.
8. They’re less stressed.
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.
9. They value effort over avoiding failure.
China Stringer Network/Reuters
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.
10. The moms work.
Getty Images/Daniel Berehulak
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.
11. They have a higher socioeconomic status.
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.”
“Absent comprehensive and expensive interventions, socioeconomic status is what drives much of educational attainment and performance,” he wrote.
13: They teach “grit.”
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.
19 things teachers say parents should do at home to help their kids succeed
Parents across the country can once again rejoice — it’s finally time to send their kids back to school.
But while this means more help in guiding your kids towards success, children really only spend half their waking hours in school during the academic year, which means that much of the rearing is still done at home.
In fact, research from North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University, and the University of California, Irvine, finds that parental involvement is a more significant factor in a child’s academic performance than the qualities of the school itself.
To find out just what parents can do at home to help their kids excel, we asked teachers everywhere to weigh in. More than 40 teachers shared some great suggestions, and we included some of our favorites here:
Read to them, read with them, and have them read to you.
—Katie Westfield, a ninth- and 10th-grade history teacher in Boston
*Editor’s note: Encouraging good reading habits was the most popular response among the teachers we surveyed.
Have dinner together
I think family meals are a time to catch up on each other’s lives. When kids and parents can converse about what happened during the day, the good and the bad, I think parents are able to get the best insight into their children’s lives. Constant communication is one of the many keys to success throughout life.
—A second-grade teacher in New York City
Be a good role model
If you want them to read, be a reader first. If you want them to improve their writing skills, begin writing letters to your children. You want them to do well in Math? Stop telling them you hate Math!
—A fifth-grade teacher
Let kids experience life
It’s not all about the books.
Have high expectations for your kids
I know a lot of parents work hard, and I can’t ask them to spend more time with their kids because sometimes they can’t. I know some of them can’t sit down and help them with homework because either they don’t have the time or they don’t get it either.
The best thing they can do is expect excellence from their child, because if they don’t get the A, chances are they’ll get close to it. If expectations are set at D, then they won’t try to get better than that. It’s all about setting those expectations so that your child is intrinsically motivated to do the best they can, even when you’re not around. And for some, the D is their best and that’s okay, too.
—Jennifer, a fifth-grade teacher in North Brunswick, New Jersey
Force them to put the screens down
I wish more parents read to their kids and encouraged them to read. I also think parents should encourage their children to go on walks, to stare at the clouds, and to play outside. Teenagers today spend almost 11+ hours in front of screens. It scares me. It’s like they don’t know how to be alone, and I worry about what it will do to independent thinking.
—An English teacher at a private school in New York City
Don’t let them be lazy
Make sure they did their homework!
—A seventh-grade social studies teacher in New York City
Inevitably, the parents who come to conferences are the parents of the kids who are doing well. Some parents don’t even realize their kid is failing. They don’t respond to voicemails, they don’t check their email, they don’t come to conferences. Don’t just ask your kid how he’s doing in school, because he’ll say he’s fine and has no homework. Ask the teacher.
—Rebecca Rosen, a ninth-grade English teacher in New York City
Work with teachers, not against them
Make sure your child knows that you and the teacher are on the same page in terms of discipline, academic success, and social and emotional health. The child shouldn’t think that the parents will save them from the teacher when they don’t make wise choices.
—Amanda Brooks, an educational director at a New York City preschool
Encourage more diverse interaction
Give your child exposure to different children so they learn how to play and collaborate appropriately with others. Less technology and more interaction.
—Christina Canavan, a former fourth-grade special education teacher in Massachusetts
Hold them accountable
Stop making excuses for them.
Trust their teacher and the education system
Ask questions about what is confusing in the work instead of saying, “that’s the new way and I can’t help you.” Stay positive and be involved in the school.
—A second-grade teacher in Middletown, New Jersey
I wish parents modeled valuing education at home and took the onus as our partners in their child’s educational success. Many parents already do this, and their child is typically outperforming his or her peers as result.
—Jenni Mayberry, a seventh-grade special education teacher in New York City
Spend time playing with them.
—A secondary school instructor who teaches English abroad
Bring your child to school on time and pick them up on time
Things come up and being late once or twice is fine, but when you’re late to school four out of five days a week, or don’t pick your child up on time, your child and their peers notice. It’s awkward for them.
—A fourth-grade teacher at a charter school
Let them fail
… and lock up their video games and screens.
Feed and nourish their health
Less sugar and fat, more exercise.
—A primary-school teacher in London
See what your kids are learning about in class
Now with everything these days being electronic, it is so easy to see what your kids are doing in school. If you have questions on the class or assignments, email us! Come to the teachers directly before getting upset and going to administration. Administration may seem like they are in charge,but really, the teachers direct their classes and know what is going on in them. Teachers are your best source for answers about the class and your student.
—Rachel Marquez, a sophomore English teacher in Escondido, California
Take a step back
Let them ask me when they forget or lose something. Or help them problem solve before emailing me.
—A fifth-grade teacher in Melrose, Massachusetts
21 books successful people read to their kids
Adam Berry/Getty Images
Reading to your children can do wonders for their future success.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, reading aloud to your children and talking about pictures and words in age-appropriate books can strengthen language skills, literacy development, and parent-child relationships.
What’s more, a study conducted last year by a number of pediatricians shows for the first time the biological effect reading to your kids has on their brains.
MRIs revealed that children with greater home-reading exposure had greater activity in the parts of the brain that help with mental imagery and narrative comprehension.
So what are the best books to read to your kids?
As part of its Storybook Project, NPR asked a number of authors, actors, politicians, philanthropists, scientists, and musicians to reveal their five all-time favorite books they’ve read to their kids, and the list so far makes a great jumping-off point for any parent priming their kids for success.
Check out the sampling below, and head to NPR’s ongoing Storybook Project, for more parents and why they chose their favorite books.
Robert Fagles’ translation of ‘The Odyssey’
When her sons were younger, Slaughter tells NPR they would read simplified versions of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Greek myths.
“One day when they must have been about 5 and 7 I brought home the actual Odyssey, in Fagles’ wonderful translation, and just read them the first page or two so that they could hear what the real thing sounded like.
“They loved it; we read it slowly, but all the way through,” she says.
Rosemary Wells’ ‘Edward Unready for School’
Slaughter tells NPR that her family members are big Rosemary Wells fans and love all her books.
“But perhaps because my oldest son is named Edward, this one became a particular favorite,” she says. “Edward is a young bear who just isn’t quite ready to join all the happy, busy kids at school. One look at his face on the cover says it all.”
Hollie Hobbie’s ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas (Toot and Puddle)’
Litte, Brown Books for Young Readers
Slaughter tells NPR that this is her family’s enduring favorite Christmas book.
“Something about the illustrations so completely capture the anticipation of Christmas — the one that gets us every time is a picture of the jet flying over the Atlantic, with only the lit porthole windows visible, but with ‘Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells’ sailing out into the night air presumably from Toot’s seat.”
Sam McBratney’s ‘Guess How Much I Love You’
Gates tells NPR that she loved reading this book when her kids were young, and once they were old enough to talk, her kids would do the baby-rabbit voices, while she would do the mommy-rabbit voices.
“As we went on we’d embellish on what happens in the book and talk about the different ways we loved each other, which meant that reading the book was always a wonderful voyage of discovery for all of us.”
Robert Munsch’s ‘Love You Forever’
Gates tells NPR that she and husband Bill loved reading their kids’ favorite bedtime story to them.
“It’s about life from birth to death, about the continuity of generations, and as we read we could see the road ahead for our family,” she says. “The kids never understood why we were always crying by the time we finished.”
Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’
Most recently, Gates tells NPR that she read this book after her sister saw the play adaptation in London and suggested reading the book.
“The book gives you a different perspective on a kid with Asperger’s,” she says. “His family really loves him but they’re also under a lot of stress, and it takes a real emotional toll on them. So we all enjoyed peeking into the mind and heart of somebody who looked at the world a little differently.”
Wendy Kopp is the founder and chairwoman of the board of Teach for America and has four kids.
Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images
Some of Kopp’s favorites are:
Du Bose Heyward’s ‘The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes’
HMH Books for Young Readers
Kopp tells NPR that she reads this book, which is particularly memorable for her kids, with them every Easter.
“This book is about a determined mother rabbit with 21 cottontail children who each do their part to create a happy family and home,” she says. “Such a fun book with great messages for kids about their responsibilities and about the importance of their moms pursuing their passions.”
Mary Ann Hoberman’s ‘The Seven Silly Eaters’
HMH Books for Young Readers
“As the mother of four, I can relate to this story of a frazzled mom with her seven crazy kids who in the end came together to make her a beautiful birthday cake,” Kopp tells NPR.
Patrice Karst’s ‘The Invisible String’
Devorss & Co.
“[This] is a beautiful story about the love that always connects kids and moms — even when kids go off to school and moms go away to work,” Kopp tells NPR. “My daughter and I talk about the invisible string all the time.”
Shel Silverstein’s ‘The Giving Tree’
Harper & Row
“The secret to living is giving,” Robbins tells NPR. “No one so purely evokes emotions of the heart and soul as giving, receiving, rejection, expectation, love, and sorrow like Shel Silverstein.”
Marcus Pfister’s ‘The Rainbow Fish’
“Another similar tale about conscience, respect, and true beauty is ‘The Rainbow Fish,’ which is a little more like the kid’s version of ‘Shallow Hal,'” Robbins tells NPR.
Marcia Brown’s ‘Stone Soup’
Robbins tells NPR that this classic folktale proves that our problem is never about lack of resources, but rather our lack of resourcefulness.
“In this one, the clever French soldiers get creative and drive keenly toward the outcome. I’ve always told people that the key ingredient to success is hunger!”
Esphyr Slobodkina’s ‘Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business’
“The peddler gets totally outwitted by the monkeys, but everything still comes out great in the end because of a funny fluke,” Chua tells NPR.
Carol Ryrie Brink’s ‘Caddie Woodlawn’
“I must have read this book 100 times when I was a girl,” Chua tells NPR. “Both my daughters loved the brave, big-hearted tomboy Caddie, who is always getting in trouble but ends up saving the day.”
Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Pale Fire’
Chua tells NPR that she read this book with her daughter Lulu when she was 16.
“With its made-up words and delusional, unreliable narrator, this book is like a big prank on the reader — and brilliantly weird,” she says. “Lulu was mesmerized!”
“Big Bang Theory” star and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik encourages her kids to read rather than watch TV.
Some of Bialik’s favorites are:
Norma Simon’s ‘Why Am I Different?’
“With so many of this generation’s kids ‘different’ somehow — diet, religious distinctions, ‘different’ social development, developmental and social delays — this book is a wonderful conversation starter about what makes us all different and how we are the same,” Bialik tells NPR. “It highlights the importance of seeing differences as normal, and makes any ‘different’ child feel not less different, but less of an outsider.”
Arnold Lobel’s ‘Frog and Toad’ series
“These stories are perfect for new readers, but usually my boys like to listen,” Bialik tells NPR. “The morals are simple and elegant, and very gently introduced.”
She says the stories of two friends with two distinct personalities are great for kids of all ages, and explore things like fear and learning new skills.
William Steig’s ‘Sylvester and The Magic Pebble’
“Such a glorious tale of a child who gets lost, and the love of his parents brings him back,” Bialik tells NPR.
While she says the themes are a little heavy and mature for kids, the illustrations will help them fall in love with the character and his unusual predicament.
New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, says reading with her children Chiara and Dante was her favorite time spent with them. “We went to the library, but I also bought books for them all the time so they always had new stuff to read and favorites they could keep. Barnes & Noble opened up in our neighborhood just in time! And we made many a field trip just to explore at ‘Barnes and NoBalls’ as they used to say.”
Some of McCray’s favorites are:
Christopher Paul Curtis’s ‘The Watsons Go to Birmingham’
Though her children are grown now, McCray tells NPR she still recalls reading aloud “The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” a historical fictional novel about a black family that travels to Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights Movement.
Nancy Farmer’s ‘The Ear, the Eye and the Arm’
She also tells NPR she has fond memories of reading aloud this “amazing, Zimbabwe-set sci-fi tale” about three runaway kids from the future struggling to escape kidnappers.
Whether in their 20s or 30s, black or white, in the West or Northeast, adult kids find there’s no place like home when their finances are in a tailspin or their relationships in shambles.
The rise was sharpest among those under 25 — a new high of 43% vs. 32% in 1980 — but it increased largely across the board. Even among 30- to 34-year-olds, nearly one in 10 lived with parents.
“This ‘Great Recession’ has had tremendous effects that previous smaller recessions did not,” says Zhenchao Qian, a sociology professor at Ohio State University and the author of the report for the US2010 Project, which studies trends in American society. “The surprise mostly is that it’s increasing for every group.”
The only segment not affected: young adults with graduate degrees. The share living with parents has stayed at 8% since 1980.
The number of kids never moving out or coming back after college or divorce had declined in the 1990s but increased faster during the last recession, which hit young adults the hardest. Unemployment among young workers has hovered above 12%.
Financial insecurity, coupled with massive student loan debt, has exacerbated another trend that might encourage some to live with their parents: delaying marriage and postponing having children.
Many also return when marriages end. Among 30- to 34-year-olds who live with their parents, 20% are divorced.
Percent of young adults aged 25-29 living with parents, 2007-2009:
1. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. (34%)
2. Honolulu (32%)
3. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas (31%)
4. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach (31%)
5. New York-Northern N.J.-Long Island (30%)
6. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, Calif. (28%)
7. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana (28%)
8. El Paso, Texas (28%)
9. Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (27%)
10. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. (26%)
100. Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa (8%)
99. Raleigh-Cary, N.C. (9%)
98. Boise-Nampa, Ida. (9%)
97. Austin-Round Rock, Texas (10%)
96. Madison, Wis. (10%)
95. Columbus, Ohio (11%)
94. Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb.-Iowa (12%)
93. Oklahoma City (12%)
92. Colorado Springs (12%)
91. Provo-Orem, Utah (12%)
Source: Zhenchao Qian, Ohio State University, and US2010 Project
The biggest impact has been on lower-income groups and the less educated. In 1980, 18% of young adults living with parents had a high school education. In 2007-09, it had jumped to 29%.
“Sometimes young people live at home for practical reasons,” says Sally Koslow, author of Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations From the Not-So-Empty Nest. “Sometimes it’s for the lifestyle. They don’t have to pay and have access to a full refrigerator.”
Qian’s research found:
•Metropolitan areas with a higher share of residents who are low-income, unmarried or young minorities have high rates of adult children at home. The Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., region had the highest share of the 100 largest metros, at 34%.
“This is a case of families adapting to difficult circumstances,” says Paul Taylor, director of the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project. “Family is the ultimate social safety net.”
High-cost areas such as New York (30%) and Los Angeles (28%), where doubling up can save money, also rank high on the list.
•Men are much more likely to live with parents than women, partly because they marry later.
“It’s not the only reason,” Qian says. “Compared with daughters, sons have fewer domestic responsibilities — such as cleaning and cooking — when they live home with parents.”
•Non-Hispanic whites had the lowest percentage living with parents. Asians had the biggest jump (from 17% in 1980 to 26% in 2007-09). Qian attributes that to later marriages among Asians, cultural traditions and a greater likelihood to live in expensive regions.
Hispanics’ rates were lower (24%), largely because many parents of immigrants do not live in the USA. Blacks (27%) and Native Americans (30%) had the highest.
Koslow says it has become far more socially acceptable for adult children to live at home for long periods of time.
She was recently asked to write a piece for Cosmopolitan: tips for women who date men who still live at home.
“I don’t think young people feel any embarrassment or stigma,” Koslow says.