I was flipping through the channels when I came across a reality TV commercial with some woman yelling at what looked like a group of 5-year-olds…something about how they’ll never become famous if they don’t get the dance steps right. Camera pans to mothers of said 5-year-olds who grimace but do nothing besides recite a little sidebar soliloquy about how awful that woman is…and yet they keep their little princesses in the class. Reminds me of that what’s-it show with the little girls with overbearing moms who groom them like peacocks and push them down a runway to win a tiara. My childhood was pushy in another way. It was always “get good grades or else” – not the kind of encouragement that I would have wanted. And that’s my point here – pushy parents can be just as detrimental for a child’s future as having a parent who just doesn’t care what you do.
So what breeds greatness? Some of the history’s most successful and prominent people had a supportive family environment, while others still managed to make a name for themselves despite a difficult upbringing. Research we conducted at Queendom on 1,027 people reveals that having a role model growing up as well as supportive parents is the optimal environment for future success. Those who have had the benefit of both of these factors are more likely to:
- Be very ambitious and spire to achieve great things, both in their personal and professional life (e.g. achieve top honors, aim for highest education level, strive to be a good partner/parent)
- Believe in themselves
- Be driven to succeed
- Persist in the face of obstacles
It’s not that people who grow up in this type of environment don’t have problems and never make mistakes or fail – they just refuse to give up. Sixty-six percent of individuals in our sample who had supportive parents and a good role model said that they still have moments of self-doubt, but are able to swallow their fears and push forward. Forty-five percent said that when faced with obstacles, they may be temporarily deterred, but will find a solution to get them back on track. Sixty percent reported that they get nervous when given an assignment that is above their current level of skill, but still find the challenge exciting and are willing to take it on. It’s this attitude of tenacity and determination that has been instilled in them that makes a difference – not simply the belief that success is the only thing that matters. It’s much more profound than that.
So what do parents of these high achievers do?
- 68% of those who had a lot of parental support said that their parents set high but achievable goals for them. Only 22% said that their parents pushed them hard – and expected them to be the best at everything.
- When they failed, 58% said that their parents simply encouraged them to try harder – they didn’t get upset, but didn’t let them off easy either. 21% reported that their parents worked side-by-side with them to help them improve.
On the flipside, those who did not have role models or supportive parents were less likely to push themselves to learn new things and less likely to be self-motivated to achieve. They were less driven (67 vs. 59, on a scale from 0 to 100), less ambitious (70 vs. 61), less persistent (66 vs. 57), and had a lower sense of self-efficacy (69 vs. 57). When they failed, 35% said that their parents punished them, while 43% said their parents didn’t care.
This belief that one must be hard on children in order to push them to succeed may work in some cases, but it always comes at a cost. Overachieving. Never being happy with your success. Always wanting someone’s approval. I don’t mean to make this sound like a moral-of-the-story Disney movie, but if we instill a sense of belief in our children that they can achieve their goals, encourage them to aim high and push their limits (while remaining realistic), and teach them to learn from failure, we already set them off on the right foot. And it doesn’t matter whether you yourself are a successful, high-achieving executive or cleaning motel rooms for a living.