How to Raise an Achiever: A Short Guide for Expat Families
Newly transplanted expat families in Singapore face unique challenges in providing highly motivated children with a well-rounded childhood. Not only do they have to help their children navigate the complexities of third culture life but they also need to do so in a way that does not impede their children’s potential for achievement and holistic growth.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for molding children into achievers nor is there one approach that ensures the child will live up to their potential. To complicate matters further, expat families will also have to contend with the emotional effects that their displacement will have on their children.
However, when unique studies on child development by noted subject matter experts are published, these results have to be given weight. Based on current scientific literature, there are certain recommendations that may help you nurture a child’s capacity to achieve, wherever they are planted. Here are some of them:
1) Help Them Develop a Healthy Approach to Failure
Unfortunately, not all approaches to achievement are positive. Some cultures that value achievement tend to place a premium on awards and certifications rather than on learning, leaving little space for the acceptance of failure. This approach has been associated with negative mental health outcomes in children, potentially turning them off from learning altogether.
Findings in some studies seem to indicate that children who are taught to regard failure as a positive learning experience are much more likely to enjoy learning and, subsequently, are better able to use their gifts throughout their lives. The best international schools in Singapore offer teaching approaches that are compatible with these findings, stoking the fire of learning in high-achieving expat children while keeping them emotionally healthy.
2) Praise Them for Hard Work, Not Natural Ability
Some studies have also found that children who are often praised for their natural abilities are less motivated to cultivate their talents. A better approach would be to praise them for their hard work and tenacity. When done consistently, this approach stokes children’s motivation to improve and overcome obstacles. Even more compelling, these results are supported by other research comparing “ability praise” with “effort praise”.
3) Encourage Them to Seek Personal Growth
Related to the previous point, current research also seems to show that constantly reminding children of how smart they are is not a good idea as it can make them believe their intelligence is a fixed asset. In a 50-year-long longitudinal study on 5,000 high-achieving children titled the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), children who excelled in adulthood were generally encouraged to continuously better themselves, which helped keep them intellectually curious and engaged.
4) Keep Nurturing them Emotionally and Intellectually
Parents who are highly engaged in work — as many expat parents in Singapore are — often find it difficult to make time for their children. However, findings in the SMPY study indicate that parents need to maintain a consistent presence to encourage children to make use of their gifts. Study respondents whose parents supported them emotionally as well as intellectually tended to maintain and expand their talents even throughout adulthood.
5) Maintain an Active Interest in Their Education without Smothering Them
Current research also shows that while the input of parents was important, it should be done without smothering them. Helping your child find mentors at their school or among peers can ensure that they not only develop intellectually but become socially adept as well.
6) Give Them Opportunities to Pursue Their Interests
It is also generally understood that children tend to do well when they are given opportunities to pursue their own interests, rather than having pursuits forced on them. Some highly rated Singaporean international schools, notably those accredited by the International Baccalaureate, provide such opportunities by allowing children to choose subjects and specializations in a way similar to university education. Most of the best international schools also offer an extensive array of extracurricular activities, helping ensure that children have a good chance of finding a pursuit they are truly interested in.
7) Ensure Your Child is Exposed to Diverse Experiences
Young achievers in the SMPY study found more career success and fulfillment later in life when they were exposed to a variety of experiences and encouraged to maintain an open mind. Indeed, this is supported by other studies exploring openness to experience.
Fortunately, expat families in Singapore are not left wanting for diverse experiences and cross-cultural exchanges. Be sure to appreciate and embrace the cosmopolitan character of Singapore and encourage your child to do the same.
8) Maintain a Positive Attitude to Learning
Achievers are, by and large, only able to continue achieving past childhood if they are developed to be internally driven. In other words, they have to love learning.
Parents and mentors have to guide children so that they see learning and self-improvement as important for their own sake. While negative reinforcement through punishments may get temporary results, it is ultimately unsustainable and results in poor adult outcomes for children.
Expat parents will be happy to find international schools in Singapore that are not only sensitive to the situations faced by third culture kids but are also uniquely equipped to help them excel throughout their lives. By taking time to choose schools wisely, these parents can ensure they bring out the very best in their children without causing them unnecessary distress or resentment.