In order to raise kids who can thrive as children and then also as adults, experts have long speculated that parents themselves need to be mentally strong so that they can have high standards, for example, and push their kids to take risks and even allow them to fail without swooping in and taking over.
Now a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that setting grand expectations for children — and backing them up with the necessary resources — may indeed help them achieve.
The research looked at babies born in China in so-called "Dragon" years, which come once every 12 years in the Chinese zodiac, most recently in 1988, 2000 and 2012. Babies born in a Dragon year are often "believed to be destined for good fortune and greatness," according to the study.
The researchers found that marriages in China spike in the two years before a Dragon year and births increase during the year itself. The cultural expectation that Dragon kids will succeed leads parents to "prefer their kids to be born in a Dragon year."
And then, because parents set a high bar for, encourage and provide for their Dragon kids, the children become more likely to succeed.
"Those born in a Dragon year are more likely to have a college education" and they "obtain higher scores at the university entrance exam," according to the paper. Even middle-school students born in a Dragon year get higher test scores.
The reason for the achievements can be traced to parents' increased investment in their children, researchers say. Since they expect them to succeed, largely, the kids do.
"Parents of Dragon children are more involved in their children's education (they have a higher propensity to talk to their child's teacher spontaneously during a semester), they are more likely to enroll their child in kindergarten, they give their child more pocket money, and they protect their child from doing chores around the house," according to the study.
"Even though neither the Dragon children nor their families are inherently different from other children and families, the belief in the prophecy of success and the ensuing investment become self-fulfilling," the research concludes.
When it comes to your kids' success, believing might just be achieving.
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