These 4 characteristics make children successful

What personality traits characterize successful children? And how can parents teach them? A psychologist gives tips.

“As an educational psychologist, I learned a very important lesson: successful people are made, not born.” Michele Borba works with children, many of whom live in poverty, have experienced abuse, or have emotional or physical disabilities. She has set herself the goal of giving these children the opportunity to live a fulfilling and successful life.

“Children need a safe, loving and structured childhood, but they also need autonomy, competence and drive to thrive,” writes the psychologist in his CNBC piece. She has identified some skills children need to develop mental toughness, resilience, social skills, morals and self-awareness. We present four of these in more detail.

1. Trust

According to the author, self-esteem and self-confidence are often equated. But “there is little evidence that boosting self-esteem increases academic success or even genuine happiness,” Borba continues. However, studies she has reviewed show that children who attribute their grades to their own efforts are more successful in life than children who believe they have no influence on their own academic success.

Self-confident children know that they can fail – but also that they can get back on their feet

Rather, true self-confidence would come from the child performing well, confronting obstacles and finding their own solutions. If, on the other hand, parents constantly solve their offspring’s problems themselves, this would only indirectly say to the little ones: “My parents don’t believe that I can do it on my own.” Confident children would know they can make a mistake – “but they also know they can get back on their feet”.

2. Empathy

Empathetic children can empathize with other people.

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The author divides this character strength into three areas:

  • Affective Empathy: The ability to share and empathize with another person’s feelings
  • Behavioral Empathy: Acting out of compassion
  • Cognitive Empathy: Being able to understand another person’s thoughts and put yourself in their shoes

Developing empathy requires an emotional vocabulary – parents can positively influence the development of this vocabulary by e.g.

  • Naming Emotions: Parents can specifically express their offspring’s emotions in context, helping little ones build their own vocabulary. For example: “You are happy!” or “You seem upset to me.”
  • Asking questions: By asking their children how they are feeling, parents help them express themselves. Example: “How did that make you feel?” or “You seem scared, don’t you?”
  • Communicating one’s own feelings: Verbalizing one’s own feelings also gives children reassurance that there is a space where feelings can be named. For example: “I slept very little today, so I’m a little irritable.” or “I’m frustrated with this article.”
  • Recognizing other people’s emotions: When shopping or in the swimming pool, parents and their children can practice reading other people’s emotions based on their body language and facial expressions. “What do you think this person is feeling right now?” and “Have you ever felt this way?” are good examples of questions.

3. Self-control

On the one hand, it is certainly important to give one’s feelings space and not to suppress them – but the psychologist describes a certain control over one’s own attention, feelings, thoughts and, above all, actions as “one of the strengths most associated with with success”.

In pedagogy, for example, “attention signals” are used, such as ringing a small bell or a verbal response such as: “Pens down, eyes on me.” Parents can develop and practice a signal with their offspring when they want the attention of the little ones. For example, “I need your attention in a moment.” and then, “Ready to listen?”

It can also be useful to use stress breaks, which give the children time to think before taking action. These pauses can be preceded by messages such as “If you are angry, count to 10 before answering.”

4. Curiosity

Curious children want to discover and understand the world

Curious children want to discover and understand the world.

© Anna Malgina/Stocksy/Adobe Stock

To help children develop curiosity, the psychologist himself likes to use toys, gadgets and open games. “Give your offspring paint, yarn and popsicle sticks to build structures out of,” reads one of the author’s pieces of advice.

Examples of curiosity is another good method: “Instead of saying, ‘It won’t work,’ it’s better to say, ‘Let’s see what happens!’ And instead of giving answers, ask: ‘What do you think?’, ‘How do you know?’ or ‘How can you figure it out?'” Even when parents are reading or watching a movie together, parents can formulate open-ended questions like, “I wonder where the main character is going.” or “I wonder why they’re doing this right now.” or “I wonder what happens next.”

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