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Little girl smiling with ambition

The Do’s and Don’ts of Encouraging Your Kid’s Ambition

what to know to help them achieve their goals

As parents, we all want our children to succeed in life. No one wants their kids to have a mediocre education, mediocre future. But how do you encourage ambition in your kids? And how do you do so without going too far? We talked to Heather Bryant, director of innovation and impact at the Momentous Institute, about the do’s and don’ts of encouraging your child’s ambition.

DFWChild: When you want to encourage ambition in your kids, are there character traits a parent should encourage that go hand in hand?
Heather Bryant: Some of the skills that go hand in hand with ambition are perseverance, resilience and hope. Perseverance is that ability to keep at it when things get hard and there isn’t immediate gratification. Resilience is that ability to bounce back from a set back or failure. And hope is so important—hope is that ability to see the possibility of a better future and the belief that I can make it happen. 

C: What are some ways parents can make their kids become ambitious? 
Parents can help their children develop ambition by teaching them how to set goals and feel the satisfaction that comes from achieving a goal. Of course, you want to start with easy wins—goals that you know will be achievable for your child.

Note that this does not mean always rewarding goal achievement with extrinsic “treats.” Have your child focus, instead, on that feeling of pride when they tried something new or difficult, and they stuck with it and triumphed. Say things like, “Wow! You worked so hard and it paid off! How do you feel inside right now?” or “I’m so proud of you for accomplishing that goal. Do you feel proud too?”

We want children to feel that intrinsic satisfaction from accomplishment rather than making them dependent on rewards. Kids and parents can work together to come up with a goal for the day or a goal for the week.

C: Does that vary by age?
We often think of ambition as something that older children develop, but actually very young children are incredibly ambitious! Every time a young child masters a new skill, it’s an opportunity to help them savor the feeling of accomplishment that comes from learning that new skill.

The more children are praised for their effort and perseverance, the more they will begin to value those qualities in themselves and see themselves as having unlimited potential.

C: Is there such a thing as too much ambition?
HB: This is a great question. Where ambition goes off the rails is when “success at any cost” takes over. If your child’s ambition is making them miserable, or the people around them miserable, it’s probably time for an intervention.

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