I Spent 20 Years Studying How to Raise Successful Children, the Most “Overlooked” Skill Parents Should Teach

As a psychologist, I have spent nearly 20 years studying how to care for and raise good human beings. The overlooked skill I always teach new parents is how to build inner efficacy.

Inner efficacy is an individual’s belief in their ability to do what is necessary to achieve their goals. Self-esteem might say, “I’m awesome!” but inner efficacy says, “I have what it takes to figure this out and achieve what I set out to do.”

Children with a strong sense of internal efficacy are more likely to challenge themselves and strive. Instead of blaming external circumstances or some immutable lack of talent for their failures, they will focus on factors that are within their control.

Research shows that children gain inner efficacy from four sources:

1. The experience of doing things right

For this to happen, children need to be challenged at the right level. Pushing them into educational experiences for which they are not ready can be counterproductive.

Whenever they worry about not being able to do something, you can foster a growth mindset by telling them, “You’re not there, Still.”

2. Observe others doing things the right way

It is important for kids to see others who they consider similar to them, at least in some details (such as age, race or ethnicity, gender identity, interests), achieving similar goals.

Peer modeling doesn’t have to come from people exactly like our unique child, but watching a much older child of a different race and gender accomplish something may not have the same effect.

3. Remember that they have a history of doing things right

The stories we tell ourselves about the past create our sense of competence about the future.

Studies show that people who tend toward optimism, have a growth mindset, and believe in themselves often don’t have such different past experiences than their pessimistic peers. They simply remember successes more vividly than failures.

4. A sense of calm in their bodies

If children feel stressed, nauseous, or anxious when faced with challenges, it can be difficult to act without first taking care of that physiological response.

Teaching our children self-soothing practices like mindful breathing will go a long way in helping them become proficient at whatever they focus on.

How to help children build inner effectiveness

1. Encourage them to try something they’re not immediately good at.

Instead of saying, “Practice makes perfect,” because we know that’s not always true — and we’re not actually seeking perfection — remind your child that “Effort makes evolution.”

2. Clarify to correct.

Don’t just mark mistakes with a red pen and say, “Wrong again, man.” Instead, try restating, rephrasing, changing the question, clarifying directions, and reviewing previously learned skills.

Even with young children who point to a red apple and say “blue,” you can say, “Oh, yes, blueberries are blue, and that’s a red apple” instead of just correcting them or saying, “It’s not blue, it’s stupid”. .”

3. Praise with specificity when it is earned.

When we say “Good job!” it must be sincere and specific. Tell children when you recognize their real commitment, tenacity, creativity, independence and competence.

You don’t have to completely erase “good job” from your vocabulary. Just add a few more details, for example: “Nice job applying the chess opening you just learned.”

4. Indicate the strategy.

Help children draw the line between action and outcome. If your child does a good job writing an essay that he or she has sketched, for example, you can say, “I noticed you made an outline. I bet that’s one of the reasons you did so well.”

Or, alternatively, you might say, “I noticed that you haven’t written an outline. It can be really difficult to write an essay when you don’t have an outline. Let’s try writing one together.”

When kids understand that their failures are not due to permanent limitations, it opens an opening for future achievement.

Dr. Aliza Pressman is a developmental psychologist with nearly two decades of experience working with families. He is an assistant clinical professor in the Division of Behavioral Health in the Department of Pediatrics at UCLA Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she is the co-founder director of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and is the author of “The 5 Principles of Parenting: Your Essential Guide to Raising Good Humans.” Follow her on Instagram @raisinggoodhumanspodcast.

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