Over the years, I’ve shared hundreds of strategies for strengthening children’s intelligence, productivity, well-being, creativity, self-confidence, resilience, emotional health, and more… Here are fresh adaptations of 14 of my favorite tips for fortifying kids’ capacities now, and throughout the school year.
Tip 1.) Creativity develops over time, with the right kinds of learning opportunities, challenges, and supports.
People are at their most creative when they’re doing what they love to do. Help children harness that enjoyment by finding their own niches and experiential pleasures, and support them in following their interests as they change over time.
Tip 2.) Resourcefulness furthers intellectual growth, and can spark inquisitiveness, reflection, and aspirations.
Even a little resourcefulness can be the difference between complacency and ingenuity. Resources abound in different contexts, and through various kinds of experiences at school, home, in the community, online, and elsewhere. When kids are resourceful, what starts out as curiosity often evolves into strengths or qualities that they can develop, feel happy about, and share with others.
Tip 3.) Co-create a comfort zone.
Seek a time and place where others are available to offer reinforcement and encouragement, where momentum can build, and where moving forward is a positive occurrence. This positivity could arise from maximizing effort, setting and attaining reasonable goals, being spontaneous (or, conversely taking time), making mistakes but learning from them, and stretching boundaries.
Tip 4.) Help kids understand that creativity requires time and commitment, but it’s worth it.
Creativity derives from what is original, meaningful, and effortful. Creative expression is something people choose to nurture—it’s an active decision—and this sometimes requires courage, determination, and conviction. Encourage kids to ask questions, get answers, think things through, be inventive, stay open-minded, and exercise patience. Parents can also talk about how their own accomplishments come about from investing creative energy.
Tip 5.) Figure out what’s motivating.
Maybe it’s challenge. Flexibility. Reassurance. Creative expression. Choice. Fun. Familiar routines. Incentives. Feelings of pride about personal progress. Or finding enjoyment in learning and achieving. The possibilities are endless, and they’ll differ from one person to the next. If something is personally relevant (that is, it connects meaningfully with the child’s life, interests, or vision for the future), that relevance can be very motivating.
Tip 6.) Consistency and routines matter.
Children function best when there’s stability and guidance, and this is especially the case during challenge or times of transition. Sometimes behaviors or circumstances change or get “rocked,” and this can be hard for kids to manage. Help them get back into a pattern or routine so they feel at ease, and less pressured. They’ll be more inclined to move forward, and to use their productive energy.
Tip 7.) Listen to other people, observe, and consider how they tackle challenges and surmount obstacles.
This is a good way to acquire information and knowledge, and it provides a base from which to build new understandings. When children interact, communicate, inquire, stretch their intellects, and share ideas, it comes together and serves to contribute to their learning and personal growth.
Tip 8.) Pay attention to skill sets.
Some children and teens need new or better strategies for pacing, organization, time management, or self-regulation. Help them find solutions to the problems they may be facing. For example, homework-related issues might involve learning to use an agenda or study guide; finding a quiet and well-equipped workspace; removing distractions; collaborating with others; or developing more efficient ways of goal-setting and monitoring progress. Kids may also need assistance dealing with instructions, clarifying expectations, or breaking tasks down into smaller, manageable chunks.
Tip 9.) Be aware.
Pay attention to children’s reactions and behaviors (such as acting out, depression, aggression, procrastination, arrogance, or introversion). Parents who are attuned to their children, and aware of what they’re up to—and with whom—are better positioned to help them respond to challenges, and any emotional upheavals.
Tip 10.) Help kids recognize what underlies their feelings.
Emotions might include fear, guilt, joy, embarrassment, jealousy, confusion, disgust, grief, hope, frustration… Encourage children to name and acknowledge what they’re feeling in order to gain self-awareness. They may want to choose the time or place. Some children find it difficult to put feelings into words, so be prepared to help them with that. Drawing, journaling, or storytelling can be beneficial for children.
Tip 11.) Convey pride.
Celebrate the small successes as well as the bigger ones. Show that you believe in children’s ability to succeed. This will help build their self-confidence and optimism, so they’ll feel good about themselves, and be better prepared to tackle life’s ups and downs.
Tip 12.) As children mature, encourage them to take stock of themselves from time to time, to reflect upon and become accountable for their actions.
Help kids make time for what really matters. This includes being gracious and increasingly mindful of others, and working hard. Integrity, confidence, forgiveness, and empathy enable kids to become caring and competent adults. Parents can model and share the importance of this—focusing on becoming better, stronger, and kinder people, and empowering children to do likewise.
Tip 13.) Nurture children’s autonomy as they grow, including learning to become active in decision-making, and problem solving.
Demonstrate ways of coping with changes, risks, and uncertainties because they are inevitable. There’s a lot to be said for persistence, solid work habits, and effort. Help kids learn to become active decision-makers and problem-solvers, and to find supportive others—family members, teachers, friends—in order to work together. Obtain professional advice when it’s required.
Tip 14.) Give thanks.
Be grateful for all that we have, all that we can accomplish, and all that our children can accomplish. Continue to foster and fortify their developing plans, capabilities, sensitivities, virtues, aspirations, enthusiasms, and value systems. In the whole scheme of things, these are what really matter.
“The only way to stay creative is to keep looking for challenges and devising innovative ways to meet them.”
“You can learn to define your own success, and the path you want to take to get there…. If you’re willing to challenge your understandings of success, and you don’t focus exclusively on big accomplishments, you’ll experience more successes—and greater confidence.”
“Thoughtful and patient direction within the complexity of kids’ lives can make all the difference in whether they’ll make smart decisions about what to do with the 24 hours they have each day. Like the rest of us, they appreciate support, understanding, and encouragement.”