There isn’t a set recipe for parents on how to raise a successful child. However, research points to several factors that could help.

Most parents want their kids to stay out of trouble, do well in school, and go on to live successful lives as adults.

And while there isn’t a set recipe for raising successful children, psychology research has pointed to a handful of factors that predict success.

Unsurprisingly, much of it comes down to the parents. Keep reading to take a look at what parents of successful kids have in common.

Drake Baer contributed to a previous version of this article.

They make their kids do chores

“If kids aren’t doing the dishes, it means someone else is doing that for them,” Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult” said during a TED Talks Live event.

Lythcott-Haims believes kids raised on chores go on to become employees who collaborate well with their coworkers, are more empathetic because they know firsthand what struggling looks like, and are able to take on tasks independently.

They teach their kids social skills

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Duke University tracked more than 700 children from across the US between kindergarten and age 25 and found a significant correlation between their social skills as kindergartners and their success as adults two decades later.

The 20-year study showed that children who could cooperate with their peers, be helpful to others, understand their feelings, and resolve problems on their own were far more likely to earn a college degree and have a full-time job by age 25 than those with limited social skills.

Those with limited social skills also had a higher chance of getting arrested, binge drinking, and applying for public housing.

“This study shows that helping children develop social and emotional skills is one of the most important things we can do to prepare them for a healthy future,” said Kristin Schubert, program director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the research, in a release.

“From an early age, these skills can determine whether a child goes to college or prison, and whether they end up employed or addicted.”

They have high expectations

Using data from a national survey of 6,600 children born in 2001, University of California at Los Angeles professor Neal Halfon and his colleagues discovered that the expectations parents hold for their kids have a huge effect on attainment.

“Parents who saw college in their child’s future seemed to manage their child toward that goal irrespective of their income and other assets,” Halfon said.

The finding came out in standardized tests: 57% of the kids who did the worst were expected to attend college by their parents, while 96% of the kids who did the best were expected to go to college.

This falls in line with another psych finding: The Pygmalion effect, which states “that what one person expects of another can come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy.” In the case of kids, they live up to their parents’ expectations.

They have healthy relationships with each other

Children in high-conflict families tend to fare worse than children of parents that get along, according to a University of Illinois study review.

A nonconflictual single-parent family is better for children than two-parent families with conflict, according to the review.

But, conflict between parents before and after a divorce can affect children negatively.

Another study in this review found that 20-somethings who experienced divorce of their parents as children still report pain and distress over their parents’ divorce ten years later.

They’re educated

A 2014 study from the University of Michigan found that mothers who finished high school or college were more likely to raise kids that did the same.

Pulling from a group of over 14,000 children who entered kindergarten from 1998 to 2007, the study found that higher levels of maternal education predicted higher achievement from kindergarten to eighth grade.

A different study from Bowling Green State University suggested that the parents’ education levels when a child is 8 years old “significantly predicted” the education and career level for the child four decades later.

They teach their kids math early on

A 2007 meta-analysis of 35,000 preschoolers across the US, Canada, and England found that developing math skills early can turn into a huge advantage.

“The paramount importance of early math skills — of beginning school with a knowledge of numbers, number order, and other rudimentary math concepts — is one of the puzzles coming out of the study,” coauthor and Northwestern University researcher Greg Duncan said. “Mastery of early math skills predicts not only future math achievement, it also predicts future reading achievement.”

They develop a relationship with their kids

A 2014 study of 243 children born into poverty found that those who received “sensitive caregiving” in their first three years did better in academic tests in childhood than those who did not receive the same parenting style.

Those children also had healthier relationships and greater academic achievement.

“This suggests that investments in early parent-child relationships may result in long-term returns that accumulate across individuals’ lives,” coauthor and University of Minnesota psychologist Lee Raby said.

They value effort over avoiding failure

Where kids think success comes from also predicts their attainment.

Over decades, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has discovered that children (and adults) think about success in one of two ways. Over at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova says they go a little something like this:

  • A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens that we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.
  • A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of un-intelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.

Dweck’s mindset theory has attracted valid critiques over the years, but the core tenant of believing that you can improve at something is important to encourage in children

The moms work

According to research out of Harvard Business School, there are significant benefits for children growing up with mothers who work outside the home.

“There are very few things, that we know of, that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother,” Harvard Business School professor Kathleen L. McGinn, who led the study, told Working Knowledge.

Daughters of working mothers went to school longer, were more likely to have a job in a supervisory role, and earned more money — 23% more compared to peers raised by stay-at-home mothers.

The sons of working mothers also tended to pitch in more on household chores and childcare, the study found.

But, working mothers aren’t necessarily spending every waking minute outside of work with their children. Women are more likely to feel intense pressure to balance child rearing with workplace ambitions. Ultimately, they spend more time parenting than fathers do.

A 2015 study found the number of hours that moms spend with kids between ages 3 and 11 does little to predict the child’s behavior, well-being, or achievement.

In fact, the study suggests that it’s actually harmful for the child to spend time with a mother who is sleep-deprived, anxious, or otherwise stressed.

“Mothers’ stress, especially when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, that may actually be affecting their kids poorly,” study co-author and Bowling Green State University sociologist Kei Nomaguchi told The Washington Post.

It could be more beneficial to spend one fully-engaged hour with a child than spend the whole evening half-listening to your kid while scrolling through work emails.

They have a higher socioeconomic status

One-fifth of American children grow up in poverty, a situation that severely limits their potential.

It’s getting more extreme. According to Stanford University researcher Sean Reardon, the achievement gap between high- and low-income families “is roughly 30% to 40% larger among children born in 2001 than among those born 25 years earlier.”

As social scientist Dan Pink wrote, the higher the income for the parents, the higher the SAT scores for the kids.

“Absent comprehensive and expensive interventions, socioeconomic status is what drives much of educational attainment and performance,” Pink wrote.

Via She Knows: Why I Love Raising My Kid in a Big City

I loved my small-town childhood, but it’s not what I want for my kid.

My childhood was just about as small-town-idyllic as it gets. I grew up in the woods of New England; I ran outside barefoot all summer, playing tag and catching fireflies until long after dark. We knew everyone in town, and all the parents kept an eye out for each other’s kids (my mom joked that she had “eyes” all over town).

But today, I’ve made the choice to raise my daughter in a vastly different environment — in the heart of one of the biggest cities in America. Why? Too many reasons to count, really, but here are a few.


In my small town, the vast majority of the residents looked like me: white. It wasn’t until I went to college in Boston and Los Angeles that I became exposed to people of different cultures, races, ethnicities, religions, genders, sexual orientations, abilities… the list goes on. Simply meeting people who are different opened my eyes to global issues more than any school lesson could. And now, my daughter has been exposed to more diversity at age 3 than I was at 18. My hope is that this means she’ll grow up with a deeply ingrained sense of respect and compassion for those who are different from her.

Then there’s the bonus of living in a diverse community: food. In my hometown, our choices were limited to fast food, pizza and Chinese takeout. In her few years of life so far, my daughter has already gobbled down delicious and surprisingly cheap Thai pad see ew, Japanese ramen, Korean bibimbap, Mexican tamales, Filipino barbeque, Vietnamese cold rice noodles, Indian aloo gobi… Oh, and all of these dishes are available within a 2-mile radius of our apartment.

Living efficiently

In cities, living spaces tend to be much smaller. Our family of three lives in a 750-square-foot apartment. This means our energy bills (and carbon footprints) are low, and we can’t accumulate a lifetime of clutter — because we have no place to put it. We have to make careful decisions about what purchases we bring home, and we have to stay organized. This means we save on everything from toys to clothes to furniture as well as the hours we’d spend cleaning a larger place. Most of all, we spend a lot more time together because there aren’t opposite ends of a house to retreat to.

Culture & entertainment

This holiday season, I’ll be taking my daughter to a production of The Nutcracker just like quite a few families across the country. But not all those families have dozens of Nutcracker productions to choose from. Shall we hit up the Moscow Ballet? How about a Debbie Allen hip-hop revamp of the Tchaikovsky-Balanchine classic? Or perhaps we’ll check out The Nutcracker performed by puppets.

From Disney on Ice to Paw Patrol Live, if it’s touring, it will come here. But it’s not all big-ticket shows that cost a pretty penny; our city also boasts a seemingly unlimited selection of affordable or even free museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens and play spaces to choose from at any moment.


Does your kid want to learn Mexican folklorico dancing? Maybe she wants to try rock climbing, learn to code or go to zoo camp? Or how about a foreign language — Arabic, Hindi, Swedish, anyone? If your kid can dream it, there’s probably a class available with an expert to teach it. Yes, a lot of these classes cost a lot of money, but you’d be surprised at the affordable options out there. Even the public school system in our city offers dual-language programs in Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, you name it. When you live in a densely populated area, there’s a wealth of experience and talent at your fingertips for a wide range of price points.

Image Source: pxhere

Delivery (yep)

Can’t make it to the grocery store because you’re home with a sick kiddo? Having a dinner party and forgot the wine? Working late with no time to make dinner? In my city, there are seemingly countless delivery services that can bring you everything from food to booze to household supplies. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re lazing it up, never leaving the house and spending our entire salaries on getting random items toted to our doorstep. But, boy, is this a nice option to have for “emergencies” large and small. I know if I ever wake up the day of my daughter’s friend’s birthday party and realize I forgot to get a present, I can order something on Amazon Prime Now that will arrive in an hour or two. It’s amazing what this knowledge does to lower one’s anxiety levels.


Even in small towns, “walkable” is one of the most sought-after real-estate buzzwords. Being able to walk to your local coffee shops, parks, libraries, farmers markets, restaurants and shops makes for an active and often more happy family. And if you’ve been trying to get a sullen older kid to open up a little, there’s nothing like a long walk to stimulate conversation.

Parent networks

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was worried I’d never be able to recreate that small-town community vibe I’d grown up with. I thought it would be impossible in this big city — but I was so wrong. Since my daughter’s birth, I have met so many amazing friends and parents (many through nothing more than a neighborhood Facebook group) and I now have the same close-knit, caring community I had back home — just on a slightly larger scale.

Bottom line: While I don’t have a huge backyard or recognize every face in the grocery store, for me, the benefits of raising a child in the city far outweigh any negatives. By being immersed in diversity, educational opportunities and cultural experiences, this city is educating my daughter far better than I would be able to on my own. And I like to think that education is turning her into a more compassionate, global-minded citizen too.