20-Year Study Reveals Overlooked Skill for Raising Successful Kids

I’ve been studying how to help kids grow up well for almost 20 years as a psychologist Aliza Pressman, told on CNBC. One important thing I always recommend to new parents is teaching their kids about something called “inner efficiency.”

Inner efficiency is about believing in yourself and knowing you can do what it takes to reach your goals. It’s not just about thinking, “I’m awesome!” It’s more like saying, “I have what it takes to figure things out and make my dreams happen.”

Kids who have strong inner efficiency are more likely to challenge themselves and work hard. Instead of blaming outside things or thinking they’re not good enough, they focus on what they can control to succeed.

Research shows that kids gain inner efficacy from four sources:

1. Getting Things Right:

To help kids learn and succeed, it’s essential to challenge them at the right level. Don’t push them into tasks or learning experiences they’re not ready for because it might not be helpful. When they feel unsure about doing something, encourage a growth mindset by saying, “You haven’t mastered it yet.”

2. Observing Success in Others:

Kids benefit from seeing others who are similar to them, especially in aspects like age, race, gender, or interests, achieve similar goals. It doesn’t have to be an exact match, but watching someone too different might not have the same impact. Peer role models can inspire and motivate.

3. Remembering Past Successes:

The stories we tell ourselves about past experiences shape how confident we feel about the future. Studies show that people with optimism, a growth mindset, and self-belief often don’t have drastically different pasts than those with a pessimistic outlook. The key is remembering successes more vividly than failures.

4. Maintaining a Calm Body:

If kids feel stressed, queasy, or anxious when facing challenges, it’s hard for them to perform well without addressing these physical responses first. Teaching children self-soothing practices like mindful breathing can significantly contribute to their ability to handle and excel in various tasks.

How to help kids build inner efficacy

Encourage Effort over Perfection

Instead of just saying, “Practice makes perfect,” which we know isn’t always true, encourage your child by emphasizing that “Effort leads to improvement.” The goal isn’t perfection, but growth.

Provide Clear Feedback

When correcting mistakes, avoid simply marking them as wrong. Try restating, rephrasing, or clarifying instructions. For instance, if a child points to a red apple and says it’s blue, acknowledge their effort by saying, “Oh, yes, blueberries are blue, and this is a red apple.”

Be Specific with Praise

When praising, be sincere and specific. Acknowledge real effort, persistence, creativity, independence, or competence. Instead of a generic “Good job,” add details like, “Good job applying that chess opening you just learned.”

Highlight Strategy

Connect actions to achievements and help kids understand the relationship. If they excel in writing an essay with an outline, point out the connection: “I noticed you made an outline. That probably contributed to your success.”

Alternatively, if they didn’t use an outline, explain the difficulty and suggest trying together for future improvement. This way, kids realize that setbacks aren’t permanent limitations and there’s room for future success.

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