New book shares the secret to raising successful children

Parents can benefit from utilizing previously studied principles to give their children the best shot at success. 

During her time reporting around the world for the Boston Globe, Tatsha Robertson noticed distinct approaches enacted by the parents of successful people from a wide range of racial or socio-economic backgrounds. Robertson’s observations compelled her to contact economist Ronald Ferguson to better understand the circumstances that define the achievement gap.

An initial survey conducted by the Robertson and Ferguson involving 120 Harvard students and their parents seemed to suggest a shared systematic parenting approach to obtaining success.


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In The Formula: Unlocking the Secrets to Raising Highly Successful Children, Ferguson and Robertson examine the developmental techniques observed by contemporary subjects alongside famous intellectuals from the past to cement the universal patterns that link many cases of extraordinary individuals.

Patterns emerge

A child that bears an inherent intellectual dexterity, needs direction. According to the two authors, the key factors that enable early success can be summated through the equation: “smarts plus purpose plus agency equals fully realized.”

The two submit that establishing goals needs to be taught very early. Talent that is inspired by a determination to accomplish specific objectives has a much better chance at flourishing. Additionally, Robertson and Ferguson believe a healthy dose of gumption to be essential; agency being the “opposite of helplessness … getting up and getting it done.”

Many of the children “growing up had a strong sense of agency,” says Robertson. This can be enabled by engaging in challenging conversations that may seem a little above your child’s age range. It inspires curiosity and the initiative to seek out information independently. The book features an anecdote that highlights this key component neatly. It revolves around the son of a village doctor from Ghana named, Sangu.

Sangu’s mother introduced him to literature very early so that by the age of five, he and his father were already having in-depth philosophical discussions. Instead of dismissing his son’s precocious curiosity, Sangu’s father would implore him to reach out to professionals whenever he had questions that existed outside of his authority.  The two parents effectively instilled a passion for learning and the will to nurture it.

At the age of 14, completely of his own fruition, Sangu applied to an academic scholarship in America, saved up some money for a ticket and then alerted his parents promptly after receiving news of his acceptance. While this particular case study highlights an individual of unmistakable precocity, the authors make a point to note that their formula also applies to those that aren’t necessarily academic prodigies. Whatever the child’s skill level, in whatever subject, it’s essential that parents utilize previously studied principles to give their children the best shot at success.

Defined roles

To better execute the “formula” Ferguson and Robertson index the eight roles parents should adopt to better foster qualities that lead to achievement: the early learning partner, the flight engineer, the fixer, the revealer, the philosopher, the model, the negotiator, and the GPS.

The first five years before kindergarten are particularly vital according to Ferguson’s and Robertson’s research. New parents are recommended to introduce activities that promote problem-solving as early as possible. Once aptitude is established it becomes the role of the parents to vigilantly monitor their children to ensure early talents are maximized-only intervening when absolutely necessary. This includes making sure no opportunity is lost because of  lack of resources, particularly opportunities that “matches up well with that child’s interest.”

The author’s notion that parents should enlighten their children to the scope of the world-show them “life’s menu,” introduce them to experts respective to the child’s interest and aspirations.  It’s important to never undermine a child’s ability to think and process information. If the child asks a question that the parent doesn’t know the answer to they should either do their best to find out or introduce them to the resources that might help them better understand together.  This helps in presenting a model for the young child- a standard that advertises a moral compass, a sense of ethics, and the ability to self-advocate.

If done correctly, future success stories leave the nest with the echoes of the sentiments previously mentioned preluding important decision-making moments in their lives.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.