5 ways to make sure your child is successful - whatever their ability (and it turns out parents are actually ‘worst-placed’ to spot a star in the making)

If you want to encourage your child without being too pushy, here are some top expert tips on how to 'unlock your child's hidden potential'

child wearing rosette
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're worried about why your child isn't top of the class or is often on a losing sports team, fear not, for there are five simple ways you can make sure your child is more successful, whatever their ability.

While there are positives to be gained from letting your kids fail, it can be so hard for parents to just sit back and watch their child or teenager lose interest in exams, homework and even their favourite sports. But as science says kids with 'intense interest' in dinosaurs have higher intelligence, so it's not always possible to push your child into all things Jurassic.

And now you don't have to as an expert psychologist has shared his top tips for nurturing your child's 'hidden potential'. Psychologist Adam Grant says: “Success is less a matter of natural talent,” he says, “and more about nurturing their ‘hidden potential’.”

The New York Times-best-selling author of Think Again explained, "I used to believe that you could judge where you would land from where you start; I thought the child prodigies, the best athletes, the most naturally gifted musicians, the most brilliant students were the ones who had the talent to go on to achieve greater things in the future."

But after years of research, he's discovered that it's the opposite “that there are many late bloomers” he said, or people who struggle seemingly without “a natural aptitude for a task or a skill but, with the right opportunity and motivation, go on to exceed their own and other people’s expectations”.

His research was sparked by a 1980s study of 120 Olympic swimmers, neurologists, concert pianists and other high-achieving adults, who "were rarely identified as having extraordinary potential by their early teachers and coaches – not even by their own parents, in most cases.”

But when they did flourish, the penny dropped, and it wasn't because they had superhuman abilities but rather because they cared and were willing to put in the work needed.

"That was really the beginning, for me, of getting curious about hidden potential,”  Adam admitted.

Adam Grant head shot
Adam Grant

The psychologist and best-selling author explores the science of motivation, generosity, rethinking and potential. As Wharton's top-rated professor for seven years running, Adam has been recognised as the world's second most influential management thinker and one of Fortune's 40 under 40.

Adam Grant's 5 five rules for success (at any age)

1. Think like a scientist

Adam believes that too many people spend a lot of their time thinking like preachers or prosecutors where they attack someone else's views, or like politicians where they only listen to people who already agree with them. And this is what stops children, and adults, from learning, as they automatically assume they're right and others are wrong.

“Thinking like a scientist doesn’t necessitate buying a microscope, but rather not letting your ideas become your identity. Recognise your opinions are hypotheses; your decisions are experiments. And when you do that, you’re much quicker to recognise when you’re wrong, and that means you can be faster to get it right."

2. Become a (sea) sponge

While the usual phrase 'soak it up like a sponge' means to take every bit of information in, Adam advises that becoming a 'sea sponge' is more effective. This analogy means to absorb good information and get rid of harmful information. He said, "Ask for advice that leads people to coach you, rather than feedback, which is backward-looking."

3. Start giving more

People who give are said to outperform takers, according to reports in Adam's 2013 book Give and Take in which he claims if you're always the one being 'coached' it puts you in the position of 'depending on others for guidance'. Takers are more likely to burn bridges and miss out on learning opportunities because they only agree to something when it directly benefits them. Meanwhile, givers who teach others are reminded that they have something to offer.

teacher with a child learning

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4. Embrace imposter syndrome

While imposter syndrome is considered counter-intuitive, Adam stresses that it is a sign of "hidden potential". He noted that so-called imposters actually work harder than their peers in order to 'close the gap between what people think they're capable of and their own beliefs in their capabilities'.

5. Seek excellence, not perfection

When looking for star potential, Adam warned that "progress comes from maintaining high standards, not eliminating every flaw." and he advises anyone who is doubting how far they've come to consider how their past self would view their current achievements. "If you knew five years ago what you'd accomplish now, how proud would you have been?"

Adam had no natural talent as a child, despite his success as an adult, and therefore he fits this theory. Having been nicknamed Frankenstein, he couldn't touch his toes, was told he needed remedial classes for writing and was too shy to speak publicly. Fast-forward to his adult life he made the US Junior Olympic diving team, has written five books and has addressed large audiences through TED Talks.

The dad of three, said, "I had hidden potential in all those areas. We assume that’s not for me, I don’t have that talent, I don’t have a knack for that skill," as he blames underestimation for the failure to discover hidden potential, and believes it has "dire consequences... we limit ourselves and the people around us."

Speaking about why parents are the worst placed to spot talent in their children, Adam explained, "You don’t have the independence and the objectivity that you need to be an accurate judge.” He puts this down to two factors - either parents “over-identify” with their children in a bid to revive their own perceived hidden potential, and “want their kids to live their dreams for them”. Or their expectations are too high, which can have deleterious effects. 

In other family news, did you know Grandparents say they learn more from their grandkids than their own children - here are the 20 things they've picked up and Here's one thing you might want to avoid doing with your kids as it can cause them anxiety, according to a psychoanalyst.

Selina Maycock
Senior Family Writer

Selina is a Senior Family Writer for GoodtoKnow and has more than 16 years years of experience. She specialises in royal family news, including the latest activities of Prince George, Charlotte, Louis, Archie and Lilibet. She also covers the latest government, health and charity advice for families. Selina graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2006 with a degree in Journalism, and gained her NCTJ and NCE qualifications. During her career, she’s also written for Woman, Woman's Own, Woman&Home, and Woman's Weekly as well as Heat magazine, Bang Showbiz - and the Scunthorpe Telegraph. When she's not covering family news, you can find her exploring new countryside walking routes, catching up with friends over good food, or making memories (including award-winning scarecrows!)