Yesterday, I was sent Madeline Levine’s article “Raising Successful Children” that was in the opinion column of the New York Times on Saturday, August 4th (see link). It was just after a walk where I bumped into a neighbor who stressed to me how deeply she wants to raise her sons to be “self-sufficient” and to her that would be a huge success. Is that what Madeline meant in her article or is it something different?

Successful Children

In the NY Times article, Levine stresses that successful children learn how to rely on themselves and do things for themselves. This is an important point. Often as parents we want to “jump in” to check our child’s homework, and make sure he or she got everything right but is this helping? Not necessarily. There is great value in expecting our children to succeed, being there if they need us (questions) but really giving them the mental, emotional and physical space to learn.

So from a parenting perspective “hanging back” is sometimes even better than as Levine calls over-parenting. I agree. Hanging-back takes courage to give your children the space to fail, grow, learn and try again.

Levine also stressed that “when we do things for our children out of our own needs rather than theirs, it forces them to circumvent the most critical task of childhood: to develop a robust sense of self.” I agree with the sentiment that when we (as parents and teachers) constantly do for children it is a “missed opportunity” to nurture in children a deeper belief in their capabilities, and growing sense of confidence.

Children that are “set up” to succeed than have a strong sense of self per Levine – I agree however would refine that statement to say: Children that are poised to succeed are developing a “healthy sense of self” that is informed by love and wisdom. Because ultimately, we want our children to make intelligent choices, feel capable to succeed in this world (no matter what it presents) and do the “right” thing even under stress or pressure. This is also nurturing a strong sense of self but not mistaken by outer strength – this comes from within.

Strong from the Inside Out

Although Levine and I come from different perspectives, we certainly agree on a few things:

  • Kids benefit from taking more and more responsibility– this may be from learning how to take out the recycling, becoming “grown up” enough to put your clothes out for the next day, or perhaps even tweens can make their lunch for the day (if they still bring it).
  • Parents that learn how to lead children to their success, and not do everything for them are helping them far more.
  • Cultivating a strong sense of self in children is the foundation for their lifelong success.

Levine focused on the “outer conditions” that we can create to help children become independent, self-reliant and ultimately develop a strong sense of self. She emphasized how the most effective parents aren’t doing everything for these kids – but “hang back” so children can master tasks, hold high expectations and be responsive to them.

Interestingly enough, I have focused on the “inner conditions” that help create this strong sense of self. I call it the development of inner confidence so that children can develop that same “strong sense of self” but it is based on what they believe about themselves. Because as children master tasks in their outer world like winning a spelling bee, or learning a new language that develops outer confidence.

But as we continue to turn them inwards, they can “see” within them is the strength, Power and capability to succeed no matter what. I feel so strongly about how inner confidence is the foundation for children’s lifelong success, and ultimately happiness I wrote a book, Growing Happy Kids: How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success and Happiness (HCI Books, 2012), to guide more parents on how to develop this deeper type of strength in children.

This may sound pretty commonsense or simple but I promise that the cultivating of inner confidence in children (and ourselves) takes practice, and is time well spent because ultimately it is the foundation for real happiness. And isn’t that what we want for all our children? I believe so.

By Maureen Healy

Maureen Healy is a practicing children’s emotional health expert with more than 20 years of global experience. Her book, Growing Happy Kids: How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success and Happiness, is available wherever books are sold. More info: or @mdhealy 

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