Unfortunately, there is no catch-all guide that guarantees your little one’s future achievements, but here’s how to set the pace for your kid’s success both in and out of school.
One of the toughest realities you grapple with as a parent is understanding that your child’s success is ultimately in their control and out of yours. While, unfortunately, there is no definitive guide to ensure you’re raising successful children, your influence on them can have more concrete effects than you think.
Here are a few ways to help your kid find that road to success both in and out of school, according to experts.
Have Conversations From Infancy
Strong communication skills open up a breadth of lifelong opportunities for your child and encourage them as students and leaders in their chosen field. Fostering this ability, however, doesn’t need to wait until your child says his or her first words.
Researchers at the University of Iowa have found that even infants can engage in the call-and-response of everyday conversation.
“It’s like a dance—there’s a thing that kids seem to learn around 6 to 8 months of age—the simple move that you take turns talking,” says Peter M. Vishton, Ph.D., director of the National Science Foundation’s Developmental Sciences Program, which funded this study. “It’s babbling, but it follows that piece of the language dance.”
A joint study at MIT, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania took that correlation a step further. It found that children ages 4 to 6 who effectively engaged in conversation back and forth had more activation in Broca’s area, a section of the brain linked to speech production.
Further still, these kids with a more active Broca’s area performed better on tests spanning language arts concepts. By encouraging conversation even from an early age, you can help your child not only acquire language quicker but also promote critical brain development.
Think Critically About Their Media Diet
Screen time is often painted the enemy of success, linked to trouble in school, obesity, and less effective social interaction. This impact on a child, however, highlights more what they’re missing out on while tuning in.
“It’s not so much that the TV is toxic in any way, it’s that if they are spending an hour watching TV, they’re spending an hour not doing the things that stimulate their development,” says Dr. Vishton.
For young viewers, tune in to shows that are the exception to the rule. Sesame Street is the gold standard of educational television, consulting experts and pint-sized focus groups to assure their audiences learn the intended subject of each segment. If you’re curious if your child’s favorite show has done similar research, take a look at their website, as they will usually broadcast this information.
Make Sure They Get Enough Sleep
For your children, not only the amount of sleep they get but also the consistency of their sleep schedule factors into their success. Regular naps, for example, are essential for your toddler’s ability to apply new language concepts in an abstract way.
In a study by Rebecca Gomez at the University of Arizona, her team found that children who napped within four hours of learning a new word or grammatical rule were more likely to generalize it the next day. Eighteen-month-olds can even learn rules and apply them in entirely new sentences if a nap follows, but they will fail to do so if they remain awake.
Sleep’s necessity only escalates as your child grows. The brain by 30 months matures enough to allow neural replay—your mind’s way of taking stock of new learning while you sleep and storing it in your memory. As your child starts elementary school, they will need around nine to 11 hours of sleep a night to make the most of what they learned in the classroom the previous day.
Teach Them to Value the Process
At Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Johns Creek, Georgia, Principal Lauren Schell sees success in students that value the learning process as much as the grade.
“Children tend to reach for the quick reward, but school success often involves sustained effort and delayed gratification,” she says. “As parents, we need to help the maturing child with this process.”
Building a routine and setting expectations for your child to follow will help them to understand the benefits of time management and consistency. Your expectations will become their own as they mature and see the rewards of their efforts over time, whether they’re studying hard for a tough class or simply cleaning their room.
Encourage Pretend Play
Playing pretend is the cornerstone of early childhood existence, from playing house to making a new imaginary friend. While you’ll think back at those times as sweet moments of nostalgia from that era of their childhood, the mental development your child experiences from pretend play will follow them throughout their lives.
Developmental scientists like Dr. Vishton often say that “play is the work of young children.” As they adopt particular roles, build out their imaginary world, and invite their friends to participate in the journey they’ve established, children learn to be more creative, have better long-term communication, and mature their problem-solving skills.
Build a Support System at School
As your child graduates to elementary school, their worldview expands to hours spent in the classroom. Their teachers, in particular, have a strong influence on their growth, bringing with them a wealth of experience and professional understanding of developmental and educational milestones and expectations.
Combined with your superior knowledge of your child and their needs, school and home can work together to foster their success as they progress from grade-to-grade.
“The skillset of the teachers and staff in a school and the personal knowledge that a parent has of a child’s personality and strengths is a powerful combination that benefits all children,” says Schell. “When we listen to and respect the insights of one another, we form a support system for the child, the family, and the school.”