Wisdom//

How to Help Your Kids Thrive

You want your kids to be happy, kind, and successful. Here’s what research says to do.

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Illustration by Tom McQuaid / Character Lab

There’s no such thing as perfect parenting.

But every parent I know, including my husband and myself, aspires to get better. We want our two teenage girls to grow up happy, healthy, socially confident, morally responsible, and academically successful — to thrive, in every sense of the word.

Research suggests that thriving depends on developing what Aristotle called “character”: collectively, the diverse strengths of heart, mind, and will that enable people to make the most of their relationships, their goals and dreams, and their ideas and imagination.

Where can parents like us turn for guidance?

While there’s no shortage of ideas on raising kids, actionable advice based on science is exceedingly rare. What does science say you should do when your child tries something new, finds it hard, and gives up immediately? How about after her birthday party, when you nag and nag but somehow the thank you notes never get written? How about when your child ends up in a new classroom, a new camp, or a new team — and struggles to connect with kids who already know each other?

Every day, parents like us face challenges like these. We know it’s our responsibility to help our children develop the adaptive mindsets and skills that lay the foundations for grit, gratitude, social intelligence, curiosity, and more. But so often, we struggle with what to do or say.

Hand-me-down wisdom can be unreliable: How can you tell the good from the bad? In recent years, there’s been an explosion of interest in studying human development. The idea that scientific insights can help us do a better job of raising thriving kids is one reason why, after finishing my Ph.D. in psychology, I co-founded Character Lab.

My own specialities as a researcher are self-control and grit, and there was a time when friends with children would ask me for advice and I’d send them research articles published in scientific journals. I now realize that most busy parents don’t have the time or expertise to wade through the fine print of a scholarly paper.

Over time, this led me to write what I call my Thought of the Week.

Each Thought of the Week is short — from beginning to end, it takes about one minute to read — and offers one practical suggestion based on psychological research. It comes directly from me to you. No ghostwriter. No journalist. Just me: a scientist, mother, and teacher who wants more than anything to use psychological science to help kids thrive.

For anyone who wants to learn more, the original scientific research is hyperlinked in the article. Without exception, before I share this advice with you, I send it to the scientist whose world-class research I’m highlighting. As a colleague and fellow researcher, I want to make sure that I’m accurately capturing the essence of their finding and translating it without distortion.

If, like me, you want to do a better job at helping your kids develop strengths of heart like gratitude and kindness, strengths of mind like curiosity and intellectual humility, and strengths of will like grit and self-control, then I’m writing for you.

I hope you’ll enjoy my upcoming Thought of the Week: It’s actionable advice, based on science. And if you want to receive it as an email every Sunday, you can sign up for it here.

With grit and gratitude,

Angela

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