10 simple ways you can set your kids up for success, according to psychology

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For most of my adult life, I was an early childhood teacher. I loved being able to help parents discover their child’s strengths and bolster their weaknesses. 

Part of that was educating parents on how to set their kids up for success. I firmly believed, and still do, that a child is best equipped for life when parenting strategies are based on sound psychological research.

Today, that’s exactly what I’ll be sharing. If you want to give your child the best chances for succeeding in life, here are 10 simple ways you can do that, according to psychology:  

1) Establish a routine and structure

To begin with, I’d like to emphasize the importance of having a routine. In the classroom, we have a structure for our activities, and there’s a good reason for that. 

It’s this – kids need to feel secure and stable. Having a routine helps give their life a sense of order; they get to have a sense of predictability. 

The same principle should apply at home. Your child might balk at the idea of having to wake up, eat, and sleep at a certain time each day, they might push back when you enforce rules…

But this is a case when tough love really pays off. And not just for them, but for you, too. Parenting is difficult, true, but having a general plan for the day makes it more manageable. 

That way, you don’t get so frazzled and you can give your child the best of you, consistently.

2) Encourage a growth mindset

One of my mantras when I was still teaching is this: “There are no stupid questions.”

All right, between you and me, some questions do sound stupid. But before you dismiss a question as dumb, think about this – every question is a quest for knowledge. 

And isn’t that worth supporting? Sadly, I’ve seen fellow teachers shoot down or dismiss students’ questions, and I’ve seen those kids stop asking questions eventually.

If you want to set your child up for success, encourage them to ask questions. It’s all in aid of developing a growth mindset

You want them to see life as something worth exploring, no matter how old they are. After all, success and innovation are the products of a growth mindset. 

On that note…

3) Encourage creative play and hobbies

One of the best things about being an early childhood teacher is being able to play at work. 

Believe me, it’s so much fun playing restaurant, building skyscrapers with Legos, making a “cake” with sand, inventing funny songs, and all that.

Why is creative play so important? 

Because not only does it encourage a growth mindset, it also builds up so many skills: 

  • It expands kids’ vocabulary
  • It supports gross motor and fine motor skills development 
  • It fosters critical thinking (they learn about cause-and-effect, decision-making, etc.)
  • Kids learn to be independent and confident

These are skills they need to be successful later in life. 

4) Get them into a reading habit

Speaking of hobbies, make sure that reading is one of them. As someone who grew up reading books, this is a really simple habit that pays off big time. 

For one, it teaches kids to concentrate. Especially now that digital devices have made our attention spans so much shorter, books offer a way to unplug and get lost in a new world through and through. 

And like creative play, it enhances vocabulary. I remember when my own son first blurted out the word “flabbergasted” at the dinner table while telling me about his friend’s amazing birthday party. 

Given that he was only seven at the time, I was, well, flabbergasted to hear him using this word. I could only credit his reading habit for giving him a much more diverse vocabulary. 

On top of that, books and stories teach kids a super important skill for success – empathy. A study showed that “empathy in the workplace is positively related to job performance”. 

I hope that’s enough to convince you to start reading to your kids early, and let them build a mini-library at home. 

5) Develop emotional intelligence

Earlier I mentioned empathy, an important component of emotional intelligence

Many parents prize academic performance above all and constantly harp on their kids about their grades, but the truth is, emotional intelligence deserves just as much, if not more, attention. 

Why? 

Because surprisingly, it is the biggest predictor of success

That’s right – turns out that being able to identify and manage one’s own emotions and that of others gives people a huge advantage at work and in life. In fact, 59% of employers wouldn’t hire a person with a high IQ but a low EQ.

If you want to develop your child’s emotional intelligence, here are a few simple ways to do that: 

  • Help them identify and name their feelings.
  • Create a “feelings corner” in your home where your child can go to express their emotions, equipped with emotion cards, art supplies, or a feelings journal.
  • Teach coping strategies for difficult moments. Introduce simple techniques like deep breathing, counting to ten, or using a stress ball when they’re feeling overwhelmed. Practice these strategies together during calm moments.
  • Regularly engage in acts of kindness together, such as making cards for family members or baking cookies for neighbors. Don’t forget to discuss how these actions make others feel.
  • Arrange playdates or group activities that require teamwork and communication. Then have a discussion on how to navigate conflicts and understand friends’ feelings.

6) Teach them to set goals

Following on from that, it’s never too early to start teaching kids to set goals.

A study found that people who wrote down their goals accomplished so much more than those who didn’t. 

It’s not as complicated as it sounds. In my preschool classroom, one thing I would do to encourage goal-setting in kids is to ask them, “What are you trying to do here?” 

That way, they’d have to verbalize their goals. Whether it was just trying to draw a family picture or creating a village scene with blocks, saying their goals aloud would make the process more concrete for them. 

Older kids can begin writing their goals in a notebook. The point is to get them started on purposeful thinking, as opposed to doing things “just because”.  

This brings me to the next point…

7) Give them a set of chores

Chores are a great way to teach goal-setting. And independence, too! 

When I was a young mom, I struggled a bit with this. With my busy life, I just wanted things done, and done fast. I knew that giving my kids their own set of chores at home was necessary, but wow, it did take a lot of patience. 

Because more often than not, they’d take a long time to do a chore and the results, less than stellar. It was hard to not step in and just do it myself or correct the imperfections. 

But I held myself back because I had to think of the long-term benefits, such as: 

  • They learn self-discipline and time management
  • They learn how to plan
  • They discover how much they are capable of
  • They learn delayed gratification
  • They develop a mindset of community, that they must be contributing members

Looking at how they’re now responsible people, I’d say it was well worth all those haphazardly made up beds and not-quite-sparklingly clean dishes!

8) Let them make mistakes

So, you’ve taught them goal-setting and given them their own set of chores…now it’s time for the hard part – letting them fail and make mistakes

As I discussed above, it was hard to watch my own kids flubbing things and making missteps as they did their tasks. 

But watch it we must, because dealing with failure is a necessary part of success. In fact, as a teacher, the kids who struggled the most with making mistakes were those who had helicopter parents

By that, I mean the parents who always stepped in to make sure their kid didn’t mess up. They’d be overprotective, so much so that their child grew scared to make mistakes. Scared of trying, even. 

Kids learn important social and emotional skills when they are allowed to fail. As Bright Horizons puts it, “Your role should be to support and guide, rather than do for them what they need to learn to do for themselves.”

And then, when they do fail…

9) Model how to be resilient

How easy it would be if we could just throw a tantrum or scream whenever things don’t go our way, right? 

But if you’ve got kids (actually, even if you don’t) and want them to be resilient, curbing those urges are absolutely necessary. 

You see, more than words, it’s our actions that our kids learn from. They are our little copycats! 

When you’re feeling frustrated or angry, verbalize your emotions and model coping strategies out loud. 

“I’m feeling really frustrated right now, so I’m going to take three deep breaths to calm down.” 

“I’m going for a run because it helps me think more clearly.”

“Even though today was hard, I’m really thankful we had that yummy dinner together.”

Trust me, your child will pick up on the way you handle frustration and mirror that. This builds resilience and sets them up for success. 

10) Teach financial literacy

Finally, we get to what I think should be included in basic education – financial literacy. 

We can’t deny that being self-sufficient is a part of being successful. That’s why it’s important for kids to understand and develop healthy financial habits

You don’t have to go into the complicated stuff right away, like compound interest and all that. You can simply start with the basics: 

  • Use a clear jar for savings so they can see their money grow.
  • Create a basic budget together. 
  • Play money-based games.
  • Take them to a bank to open their own savings account.
  • Practice comparing prices when shopping.
  • Discuss wants vs. needs.

Simple, right? But it starts your child off on the right foot when it comes to money.

Final thoughts

Whatever their definition of success may come to be, the bottom line is, we want our kids to be confident, self-disciplined and believe in contributing to society. 

With these simple yet powerful practices, you can equip your child for the challenges ahead and boost their chances for success. 

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