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Want to Raise High-Achieving Kids? Empower Your Kids to Control Their Own Outcomes

Updated: Jul 13

As parents, we are naturally inclined to think about the success of our children. We want them to go on to do great things, and, as their most core support system, we want to do our part to make the world their oyster. However, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by trying to help our kids achieve great things without becoming helicopter parents. There are so many suggestions online for how we best foster the development of great kids; popular parenting styles like “Instinctive Parenting” and “Attachment Parenting” seem to be taking off, and it’s hard to figure out which one feels right. It turns out that you don’t actually have to adhere to one keyword parenting style at all. Instead, it is a set of healthy parenting choices and values that will dictate your child’s achievement.

Psychology research on childhood achievements often highlights the role of “perceived self efficacy” in children’s success, especially in school. While you might not be familiar with the particular terminology used to describe this crucial characteristic, what it represents is something that we all know well. Self-efficacy refers to the child’s understanding of their own ability to dictate their outcomes. For example, a child who feels like the actions that they take in an attempt to reach their goal actually have tangible, consequential results will succeed to a greater extent than their counterparts. There are so many ways that we can help children foster this kind of achievement-oriented confidence, which has been proven to be so fundamental to the long-term successes of children.

Author: Sarah-Eva Marchese

and Anna Chard

Adult Perceived Self-Efficacy Dictates How Adults Parent Achievement in Their Kids

We are our children’s greatest role models. As soon as they begin to utter their first words, kids are copying us. They are mirroring our every move, recreating the sounds that we make, and internalizing our behavior in an attempt to replicate it themselves. So, as parents, the way that we speak—and what we say—has an immense impact on the long-term behavior and psychological development of our children. For this reason, one of the most significant influences on children’s perceived self-efficacy, once study found, is their parents’ perceived self-efficacy.

The role of adults in parenting achievement can seem sticky. We certainly don’t want to be overbearing, dictating the every move of our children and monitoring intensely the work that they do, but we also don’t want to let our young children navigate learning on their own; it can absolutely be hard to figure out where the parental sweet-spot is in facilitating childhood achievement.

It turns out that parents with high perceived self–efficacy tend to facilitate academic activities (learning moments) for their children. And this makes sense! If, as parents, we feel like the parenting actions that we take will have long-term benefits for our kids, and if we feel that the time that we put into thoughtful, conscientious parenting pays dividends for our childrens’ outcomes, we will inevitably take actions that we correctly believe to be conducive to our children’s achievement. Conversely, if we don’t feel confident in our ability to teach our kids how to be good thinkers, learners, and workers, we likely will facilitate learning opportunities in the same way. Put more simply, there is an abundance of evidence to suggest that parents who feel like they can positively affect the development of their children will more successfully foster childhood competency than those who don’t.

Ultimately, stronger perceived self-efficacy is positively correlated with higher aspirations in both children and adults, solidifying that how children conceive of their own abilities to achieve will dictate their motivation to succeed—and that how parents conceive of their own abilities to help their children achieve will dictate their motivation to help them succeed.

How to Foster Your Kids’ Self-Efficacy

Many of you are likely familiar with the concept of “inductive parenting.” This parenting style encourages the child to chase their own independence, and it relies on an open communication between the parent and the child. Crucially, inductive parenting includes significant parental demands, asking a lot of the child behaviorally. The style suggests that maintaining some rigidity and structure in the child’s daily life actually provides them with a sense of security.

Ultimately, research has found that combining this kind of strict, standards-driven parenting style with an abundance of support and encouragement is the most effective way to develop very competent kids with a strong sense of self-efficacy. They will both understand the value of expectations—of setting them and meeting them—and they will feel cared for and supported in their ambitious pursuits. These two factors, it seems, are fundamental to parenting achievement in developing children.

The other crucial means of parenting in self-efficacy in our kids is based on the understanding that our children mimic us. As stated above, parental self-efficacy is incredibly important in fostering and facilitating childhood self-efficacy. However, it is not the legitimate self efficacy of parents that influences childhood development so significantly; whether or not the steps that parents take manifest in tangible, productive outcomes isn’t the key. It is simply the child’s perception of parental self-efficacy that plays a role in the child’s own development. If your kid perceives you to be efficacious, they themselves will mimic your productive behavior, becoming more efficacious themselves. Additionally, if you perceive yourself to be an efficacious parent, you will perpetuate productive behaviors for your children, aiding them in their quest to become high-achievers.

How We Talk About Success is Crucial

The way that our successes are perceived by our children is fundamental to their own future successes. As such, the most valuable job that we have as parents aiming to foster self-efficacy in our children is remaining intentional about how we remember—and convey—our own achievements. It is important to share with our kids how the steps that we have taken, and the experiences that we have had, have shaped our outcomes. We now know that the correlation between efforts and outcomes matters, so make those connections in your own experience known to your kids.

Don’t be afraid to recollect vividly. Have thoughtful conversations about your past. Share the photos and memories of instances that brought you to where you are now, and encourage your child to do the same. Let them tell stories about important moments, and prompt them to think about how those moments affected future ones. Remembering where we started, and connecting the dots to where we are now, is psychologically crucial (for both us and our kids) as we aim to reach our next goal. There is no right way to parent efficacious children. Rather, the task is simply to help them grasp their own autonomous impact, through modeling self-efficacy ourselves and thus imparting it unto our children, that matters, always remembering to do so in a way that is reliable, kind, supportive, and inspiring.

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