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How to Raise Smart Kids who Welcome Even the Toughest Challenges

Science tells us that the key to raising smart kids is to have high expectations of them. Here are 5 ways to do this in a positive, low-stress way.

As parents, we all hold our kids to different standards. Some parents have strict academic, sports-related, or social standards, while other parents are more relaxed with their expectations.

What impact, if any, do our expectations as parents have on our children’s young minds? Let’s look at two theoretical kids, from two different families:

“Suzie Que” and “Jane Doe” come from similar backgrounds. They are the same age, have the same IQ, and are in the same class at school.

Suzie and Jane both have a test today, which they both studied for. Mr. and Mrs. Que tell Suzie that she has studied hard and they expect that she will ace her test. Mr. and Mrs. Doe tell Jane that they will be happy no matter how she does.

Who would physiologists experts expect to do better on their test? Which produces better outcomes – low pressure or high expectations?

It turns out that according to science, Suzie Que, actually has a better chance at getting a better grade than Jane Doe.

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The Weight of Our Expectations

Back in the 1960’s, a couple of researchers found that if teachers thought the kids in their class were the “smarter kids”, then the teachers had higher expectations and the students scored higher; opposed to the class where the teachers were told that their students were not expected to excel.

When adults expected more of children, it positively impacted the children’s behavior. This is called the “Rosenthal Effect“.

This trend extends into the home. Studies, including this one, have found that parents’ expectations had the strongest influence on academic outcomes.

It is clear that when we believe in our children, and effectively communicate these aspirations to them, they perform better.

Related: How to Restore Peace When Parenting an Argumentative Child

Can You Set the Bar Too High for Smart Kids?

This doesn’t mean that you should expect young children to register for the next marathon, budget a check book like Dave Ramsey, or start a non-profit organization.

It simply means that teaching your school-age children that hard work during early childhood education, high school, and all aspects in life can pay off.

The first step is to make sure your expectations are realistic.

Also read: 5 Bible verses on dealing with Tough Times

When the bar is set too high, it can have negative, even detrimental, effects on your child’s development. As you may guess, parental over-involvement and over-aspiration has been linked to achievement anxiety, increased family conflict, and decreased self-confidence.

How to Set Realistic Expectations

So if you aren’t already having a panic attack, your goal is to have high aspirations for your kids, but not too high. You have to make sure your children are successfully empowered, but not over-pressured.

How do you find the middle-ground? It is actually much simpler than it seems. Similar to every other aspect of parenting, balance is the answer. Trust your parental intuition and follow these five simple tips.

1) Set Attainable Goals

For your child, being the “smartest kid” in class is not an attainable or trackable goal; however, getting an A on an upcoming spelling test may be an achievable goal.

Try teaching kids to set goals with these free activities.

2) Don’t Aim Too High

If your child is struggling in math, expecting a perfect score on their upcoming test may produce negative outcomes due to stress. Possibly, a better goal could be to achieve a “better score than last test”.

3) Take Small Steps

If your child just joined the track team, expecting them to run a marathon in a month is an impractical goal to set. Consider gradually increasing their goals by challenging them to add an extra lap each week to their workout routine.

4) Provide Encouragement

Your goal should be to create an atmosphere where kids feel empowered to succeed, opposed to one where they are terrified to fail.

Give them the tools they need to achieve their goals, encouraging pep-talks, and your full support.

5) Approach Failures with Support, Not punishment

Failed attempts should not be punished, especially when you child gave it their best. Your child needs your support most during losses or failures.

Try these 5 simple methods to support your child through a loss and encourage them to try again.

Final Thoughts on Raising Smart Kids

As parents, we can instill ambition and drive in our kids. Science tells us that if we want to raise smarter, more successful children, we have to have high expectations of them.

This doesn’t have to mean setting ridiculously high goals and dealing with stressful failures. As a parent, it is your responsibility to guide your child. Your approach to this can be to provide positive encouragement and teach your kids to strive for high, yet attainable goals.

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Thursday 31st of October 2019

This is a great post. Something I need to think about once my littles get older.


Thursday 31st of October 2019

This is a great post. I work with high achieving college students and it's very obvious these students come in with high expectations. Most do very well. However, the ones with parents that have set unrealistic goals do tend to struggle more.


Wednesday 30th of October 2019

This is so true! I hold high expectations for myself and know that I push it onto my kids as well. I will use some of these tips! Thanks!

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