10 Principles for Raising Successful and Happy Kids

Alex Zaretsky
22 min readAug 16, 2023


What is raising a child? What is our role as parents?

In my opinion, the role of a parent is to be a chaperone — to assist our child’s gradual transformation into a successful and happy adult.

What does it mean to be a successful and happy adult?

Here’s my definition:

Successful — a person who knows how to set goals for themselves and achieve them. It is essential that these goals stem from their natural interests and create value for others or at least do no harm to those around them. Otherwise, these goals cause self-harm as well.

Happy — someone who knows how to accept, love, and enjoy being who they are and the world around them.

Adult — in my understanding, it means being self-sufficient. Children differ from adults in that they cannot live without the love and care of other adults, whereas an adult can, if they know how to love themselves. Although, of course, it’s nicer when there are other people around who love us as well. I feel like the word “adult” doesn’t quite convey the essence of this state; matured does the job better.

A little context for those who are not familiar with me and my experience. I am married and a happy father of two daughters: Alisa and Roni who were 7 and 4 when I wrote this article.

So, here are ten principles that I try to follow in life with my kids:

  1. Educate yourself, not the child.

Children are a mirror of ourselves. If there’s something I don’t like about my child’s behavior, it exists in me or in their mother — my wife. But since I chose my wife myself, with a clear mind and consciousness, it also exists in me.

So, when something doesn’t satisfy me, triggers negative emotions, or makes me want to change something in my child, I start looking more closely at myself as if from the outside and asking myself questions.

Why does this not satisfy me? Maybe it’s ‘bugs in my programming’ — patterns from childhood?

I’ve noticed that we behave less consciously with our children compared to other adults. In other words, many reactions are more natural and unfiltered by our consciousness. They come straight from the subconscious. That’s why various patterns embedded in childhood regularly emerge.

For example, I was enrolled in swimming lessons at the age of 6, but I hated it and didn’t want to continue. As a result, I quit after six months.

When Alisa was turning 6, I suddenly realized that my daughter must learn to swim well. But for some reason, she resisted it — she didn’t want to take lessons from the teacher I found, and the amazing thing is — she hated it too only when she was with the teacher, but she enjoyed swimming with me.

My initial reaction to her refusal to take swimming lessons was irritation and a desire to persuade/convince/force her — “it’s for her own good.” But as soon as I notice that I’ve started to “educate” her, I remember this principle of “educating yourself.” Consciousness kicks in, and I start reflecting on why I have this need to teach her how to swim.

I start asking myself questions — is it really crucial for Alisa’s well-being to learn perfect freestyle swimming before the age of six? Or is it just something I want? Why do I need it? And only after these reflections I begin to recall that I’m repeating a program from 35 years ago with my father.

As a result, I stopped the lessons with the coach, and now we swim together, although not very often.

In general, children are an excellent tool for working on ourselves and our childhood patterns. Use it. It’s cheaper than therapy.

2. NVC (Nonviolent Communication)

What does violence in communication mean?

Violence is expressed in limiting or depriving the freedom to experience any emotions, even the most negative ones.

In order for a child to grow into an emotionally healthy individual, the role of the parent is not to hinder their experience of emotions but to help them live through and eventually identify and control the expressions triggered by these emotions.

Let me give you an example from real life.

For instance, a child wanted to bring her favorite doll to daycare but forgot it at home. Suddenly, in the garage, when parents try to put her in the car seat, she remembers and refuses to get in. She starts crying and demands the doll. She refuses to go to daycare until she gets her doll.

Possible parental reactions:

“Stop the tantrum right now. We’re late for daycare, and I have to go to work.”

“It’s your own fault — you shouldn’t have forgotten it. Remember next time.”

“Well, why are you acting like a little child? You have another doll in the car or at daycare. You can play with that doll when we get home.”

All these reactions are harmful to the child because they teach her that her feelings are not important or valid, that she shouldn’t be experiencing these emotions in this situation. Problems that may seem trivial and silly to us adults can appear as real tragedies to children.

Now let’s go through the parent’s reaction in this situation step by step using the NVC framework:

a) Show empathy: Take the crying child out of the car, hold her in your arms, and give her a tight hug.

b) Name the emotion the child is experiencing at the moment: “You’re really upset.”

c) Identify the need the child has at that moment: “You really wish your favorite doll was here with you right now.”

d) In most cases, there is no need for a solution. Once the child feels that her feelings have been acknowledged, she calms down. But sometimes, you can mention a few possible solutions and offer her to choose one.

After acknowledging the child’s feelings and needs, you can also share your own feelings and needs. For example:

a) Emotion: “I’m feeling very nervous right now because we left home late, and I might be late for work, and I don’t like being late.”

b) Need: “I need to leave right now, but only after I buckle you up in your car seat and take you to daycare. Can you help me buckle you up?”

General rule: Accept any feelings and emotions the child experiences. This will also make it easier for you to remember and acknowledge your own emotions and needs.

There are no bad emotions — only bad actions. It’s only actions that can be stopped and disciplined, but never emotions.

This may sound simple to understand but it’s very challenging to apply. It takes time, focus, and constant practice to retrain our reactions and habits. I recommend two books on this topic that have changed my life:

Faber, Mazlish, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen”

Marshall Rosenberg, “Nonviolent Communication”

For those who prefer watching videos on YouTube rather than reading, here’s a 3-hour workshop by Marshall: https://youtu.be/l7TONauJGfc

There are also good books on communication skills with children (which also work with adults):

“The Whole-Brain Child” by Daniel Siegel

“The Explosive Child” by Ross Greene

I wanted to learn how to better understand my children, and as a result, these books changed my perception of how to communicate with adults as well. Everyone appreciates when their feelings are acknowledged. You don’t necessarily have to carry them in your arms, but sometimes giving a hug is worth it.

3. My Home — My Fortress.

Prolonged stress has a negative impact on a child’s brain development. There is a lot of research on this topic.

The strongest stress for a child is the fear of being left alone — abandoned by their parents.

This fear is deeply ingrained in us through evolution as a matter of self-preservation. Just think about what happened to human infants in ancient times when they were suddenly left alone without the supervision of parents or relatives from the tribe. Exactly — nothing good, due to their complete helplessness.

The love of parents, especially the mother, is the reassurance for the child that they will not be abandoned and that they are safe.

Therefore, when you withdraw your love because the child does not meet your standards or expectations, the protective stress mechanism automatically activates to signal a risk to their life. Essentially, by taking away your love from the child, we threaten the child’s subconscious with death.

Children already experience enough stress in the surrounding world: many things are unfamiliar to them, they are constantly being asked to do something, taken somewhere, and they have almost no control over their lives. Essentially, they find themselves at the lowest rung of the social hierarchy. So at least at home, they want to relax and depend on their parents, who will accept everything. Have you noticed how your child often behaves differently at home compared to daycare or outside?

At the same time, some studies claim that short-term, controlled stress can even be beneficial. So perhaps it’s okay to occasionally pick up your child from daycare or school a bit late. 🙂

We adults are also human beings and sometimes we behave emotionally, we can lose our temper, shout, or throw a tantrum. I believe that if we do it in moderation and provide clear feedback to the child when we were in the wrong, their psyche can handle it. It’s definitely better than keeping our emotions inside and suffering from accumulated negative emotions. Children sense everything, but not all of them understand or can take the blame for their mother’s/father’s unhappiness upon themselves. Is that what you want? So it’s better to explain everything. If you had an argument with your spouse in front of the child, make sure to reconcile in front of the child as well. Well, it’s better to leave some reconciliation elements for adults only. 🙂 The main thing is for the child to have examples that after an argument comes reconciliation.

It’s clear that 99.9% of parents genuinely love their children and undoubtedly have the best intentions when they shout at their kids, threaten them, compare them to other supposedly “better” children, and so on. But children cannot evaluate our good intentions, instead, they automatically perceive it as a threat of not receiving love and not feeling safe.

To avoid creating unnecessary stress, it’s better to avoid the following situations:

Excessive pressure on a particular issue. For example, if a child no longer wants to do ballet, and it’s your dream to raise a star.

Ignoring the child. For example, when the child is talking or telling you something, and you are not paying attention or looking at your phone. Even worse, intentionally ignoring the child as a punishment for something. Children often intentionally misbehave just to attract negative attention when positive attention is not forthcoming. Being scolded means there is contact, but being ignored is much scarier.

Comparing with other children, especially siblings.

Not believing in them. “You’ll never succeed anyway” or “this is not for you.”

Labeling, both negative and positive. “You’re always making a mess” or “You’re so smart.” Both statements stick labels on the child and create a certain self-identification that hinders their development. This will be discussed in more detail in principle #6.

Generalizing. For example, “Your room is always a mess” or “You never listen to me.”

Asking questions that have no answer: “Why is your room messy again?”

What should we replace these habitual behaviors with? You can read about it in the books by Mazlish and Rosenberg that I mentioned in the previous point.

To create a stress-free atmosphere at home, it is also essential to be consistent and establish a repetitive routine. Children feel comfortable in a familiar environment that they know well. Children develop habits very quickly — faster than adults, and become attached to their toys, objects, and rituals.

My daughter Alice gets upset if her dad refuses to read a bedtime story when he’s very tired or brushes his teeth in the morning without her. Every disruption of the ritual causes a mini-stress.

But as I mentioned earlier, stress in small doses is beneficial — it accelerates development. Have you noticed how children seem to grow up after each trip with you? During a trip, most routines and rituals are disrupted, there are many new stimuli that create mini-doses of stress that stimulate development.

I recommend reading:

“Brain Rules for Baby” by John Medina

And listening to “Consequences of Stressed Parenting” by Dr. Gabor Mate.

4. Respect the Child’s Individuality

Have you noticed who we usually communicate with in the most respectful and attentive manner? Unfamiliar adults, especially in a professional context where our reputation or some business exchange with potential mutual interest is at stake. And who do we often communicate with the least respect and attention? That’s right, with the people closest to us. And who can be closer than our own children? We can yell at a child if they didn’t hear us the first time. We can refrain from explaining our decisions that the child doesn’t like, thinking, “They’re still little, they won’t understand anyway.” We can disregard their opinions, thinking, “I’m an adult, and I know better.” We may not be afraid of hurting their sense of self-worth, believing that as parents, children should accept everything we do or say because it’s all done for their own good and for the purpose of education. Ultimately, we think, “I’m the one in charge here because I feed and support them.” As parents, we want our children to grow into successful individuals, but the foundation of any success is a sense of self-assurance. To be successful in the eyes of others, one must first feel successful in their own eyes. That’s what self-confidence is. And this self-assurance is inherent in every child from birth. A child doesn’t need motivational speakers to motivate themselves to learn how to walk. They are naturally confident that they can do it, and it doesn’t matter if they have to fall 10,000 times or even bump their head a couple of times on the way to that goal. When we don’t listen to the child’s opinion and treat them without respect, we deprive them of their innate self-confidence. The child becomes accustomed to the idea that they don’t deserve respect and that their opinion doesn’t matter. Of course, as parents, we don’t do this intentionally; it’s just challenging to attentively address a million questions, desires, and whims of a child in our daily hustle and bustle. We need to develop a new habit within ourselves. To simplify the development of this habit, my life hack is not to allow myself to do something that I wouldn’t do with a less familiar adult. Examples: When a child tells me or shows me something, I try to give them 100% of my attention in that moment, not just for appearances but genuinely showing interest, asking clarifying questions, and trying to understand and provide feedback. If I’m busy at that moment and don’t have the opportunity or desire to engage, I honestly tell them that I’m busy and let them know when I’ll be available again. It’s better for the child to be upset and cry because they were denied attention in that moment than to regularly feel that what they say or do isn’t particularly important to the person closest to them. When I play with my children, I fully immerse myself in the game. At that moment, nothing else exists in the world. No checking emails or peeking at social media during that time. When I make a mistake or am simply wrong about something, I apologize to my child. I sincerely ask for forgiveness. I believe it’s important for children to know that parents are human beings, not gods, and that they also make mistakes and know how to admit them. Never tease a child about their weaknesses or failures, even in jest. The child should be 100% confident that their parents accept them for who they are: skinny or chubby, agile or clumsy, fast or slow, short or tall. Personality is formed through a sense of safety and acceptance. Use “thank you” and “please” when addressing the child. Respect helps shape a sense of personal identity. Avoid moralizing. Of course, there’s a fine line between teaching, giving advice, and moralizing. But if you mentally put yourself in your child’s shoes as “the adult whom you respect,” it becomes easier to find that line. Ask the child’s opinion on various matters and actively listen to their responses, meaning ask clarifying questions and provide feedback.

5. Give the child control back — encourage responsibility and independence

Children have very little control over their lives. We tell them what to eat, where to go, what to do, and how to behave. In many ways, this is a justified necessity. We live in a society with complex behavioral rules that are not passed down through genes, and this knowledge is necessary for children to be well-received by others. However, for a child to become a successful adult, they need to learn to rely on themselves and their abilities. Moreover, humans have evolved to derive satisfaction from their own competence. We feel pleasure when we sense that we are competent in a certain matter. When we achieve a level of mastery in something to the point where previously difficult tasks become intuitive and shift to the subconscious level, it is known as “kaizen” in Japanese culture — the path of mastery and constant improvement.

Control through the right to choose.

A child’s natural desire is to be independent from their parents and make decisions on important matters for themselves, gaining competencies in various areas. For example, from an early age, my children wanted to choose what they would wear every day, what they wanted to eat, what cartoons to watch, what and with whom to play, and much more.

The flip side of this independence is that in many matters, children don’t have enough experience to make safe, let alone beneficial, decisions for themselves. They want to eat sweets, watch cartoons all day, and wear summer clothes in the cold.

My approach is as follows:

Control when there is a risk to life or health: rules necessary to ensure safety. For example, not running where there are cars, holding hands in certain places until a certain age. Not climbing or jumping from places where they could break their necks.

Delegating choices and responsibilities for all other matters within certain rules. They choose what to wear, what to read, what to play, and with whom to play.

So if there is a risk to life or health, I impose strict rules and micro-management. If not, I delegate the right to choose within the given options and rules.

For example, there is a rule that “chocolate or ice cream is not food, but treats,” and they can only choose them after eating proper food.

Control through contribution to the collective.

In addition to the right to choose, children also enjoy helping and feeling a contribution to the collective. For example, I always try to involve my children in cooking breakfast on weekend mornings when there is enough free time. When I go to take out the trash, I take them with me.

Many books on child psychology recommend assigning children various chores around the house from an early age. For example, setting the table, loading clothes into the washing machine, cleaning their room, taking out the trash, loading dirty dishes into the dishwasher, clearing snow from the car, making sandwiches for school independently, and so on. It is not recommended to pay them money for these tasks. After all, you don’t get paid for taking care of your children. According to experts, these responsibilities related to maintaining the family’s livelihood should cultivate in children the habit of doing important and useful things not only for themselves but also for others.

Just don’t correct or redo things for them, or they will understand that it’s just for show — you don’t actually value their contribution to the collective and they will quickly lose motivation. When a child sees that they are trusted, they want to continue even when it’s difficult and doesn’t go well.


“The Self-Driven Child” by Ned Johnson, William Stixrud, Ph.D.

“How to Raise Successful People” by Esther Wojcicki.

6. Praise effort, not the result

We parents adore our little ones. Every parent believes their child is the smartest, the most beautiful, the most talented. And grandparents, well, they take it to the third power. We praise our children for their beautiful drawings, their recited poems, and later for their grades in school. It’s only natural to be proud of your child’s achievements and share their outstanding successes with friends and acquaintances. In society, it’s considered impolite to openly praise oneself, but praising our children is perfectly acceptable. However, if a child brings home a poor grade, refuses to recite a poem, or fails to meet our expectations in some other way, we genuinely become upset and try to “fix” them so they conform again — persuade, coax, shame, intimidate, bribe. In other words, the desire to take pride in our child’s accomplishments has a flip side — to make them meet our expectations.

Numerous studies on the psychology of human motivation and other primates indicate that the best motivation is internal motivation, driven by natural interest rather than external factors. External motivation may yield short-term results, but in the long run, it will still regress. One of two things happens: either the child tries their hardest to meet our standards in order to win our love or rebels and does the opposite to spite us.

In the first case, the child may be outwardly successful but internally unhappy because they never learned to understand themselves — “what do I want and love to do?” They never developed the muscle of doing something out of internal interest in pursuit of external approval — first from parents, then from teachers, friends, bosses, and society as a whole.

In the second case, the pattern of rebellion can severely hinder relationships with other people and hinder the achievement of long-term goals.

Therefore, it is important not to hinder the training of the habit of relying on internal motivation.

How can we do that? Child psychologists recommend praising effort and scolding for lack of effort, rather than praising or scolding for the result, grades, or personal character traits.

For example, if a child receives an A, we praise them not for the grade itself but for how well they prepared and understood the material.

If they receive a poor grade, we don’t scold them for the grade but rather examine whether they dedicated enough time to preparation and provide more support if needed.

In theory, I understand this, but in practice, I myself don’t always apply it 100%.

For example, if my child shows me her drawing of a dog, which she drew with a lot of pleasure and eagerly awaits my feedback, I might say that I like her drawing — I praise the result. But I also point out that she has become much better at drawing dogs because she practices and learns so much, and each time it gets better and better — I acknowledge her effort.

From an early age, I want my child to believe that the formula for talent is not some divine gift or a random combination of genes but rather:

Talent = (internal interest) × (regular practice) × (learning from the best practices).

Carol Dweck called this type of thinking a growth mindset. The mindset where people believe that talent or intelligence is something that is either given or not given and cannot be changed, she called a fixed mindset. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I agree with Carol Dweck that living with a growth mindset is more fun and interesting than with a fixed mindset.


“Mindset” by Carol Dweck

“Grit” by Angela Duckworth

7. Positive attitude towards failures

It is natural for parents to want to protect their children from any dangers and failures. However, children usually have a natural desire to try and explore the world around them. Sometimes this involves certain risks, such as getting a bump on the forehead.

I often see parents on playgrounds who follow their child’s every step, trying to protect them or, even worse, shouting, “Don’t climb, you’ll fall.” The child grows up, but the parents’ habit of protecting and warning remains. In adolescence, this turns into demands to control where and with whom the child interacts and how they spend their time.

Child psychologists came up with a term for this — “helicopter parenting” — and claim that its influence on a child’s psyche is no better than neglect — complete lack of care.

In general, as always, balance is necessary.

Failures and mistakes are a natural mechanism of feedback. Through failures, we learn. Only those who do nothing do not make mistakes. Therefore, it is useful to let children experience failure and the pain of their own failures so that they understand that there is nothing terrible in this pain. My youngest daughter is 4 years old and she loves to swing, but she has fallen off a couple of times when she forgot to hold on tight. Falling is painful and unpleasant, but it is worth it to derive pleasure from swinging. Without falls, one cannot learn to hold on tight.

Of course, failures are not pleasant. And in people, by nature, there is a tendency to avoid anything unpleasant. That’s why learning new skills is difficult, as at the beginning, nothing works out — it is not pleasant, and therefore, one wants to quit. When my girls get upset because something doesn’t work out, I always tell them the same thing: “If you are not failing, you are not learning.” It’s great that it’s not working out — it means you are learning something new right now.


“How to Raise an Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims

“How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by Scott Adams

8. Offer, but don’t impose

Every child is a natural explorer. Natural curiosity is ingrained in us from birth. The task of a parent is to present various new opportunities for exploring the world, but not to impose what is interesting or important to oneself. The child may have completely different interests.

One of the most important skills that children acquire in childhood is the ability to listen to themselves — to know what they want and what they don’t, what they like and what they don’t. Just as a child learns about the world around them, they explore their own inner world through trial and error. Our task as parents is to provide opportunities for self-exploration, but not to impose if the child is not interested.

For example, I wanted Alice to start practicing artistic gymnastics. But when I took her there, she flatly refused to participate. I was very angry and tried to manipulate, persuade, and even threaten her. But then I thought, maybe she already knows that it’s not for her? Why am I insisting?

But when it came to playing Roblox or Among Us, I didn’t have to convince her. Showing it to her once was enough. Just as I didn’t persuade her to do rock climbing, trampoline jumping, or drawing. By the way, through playing Roblox, she learned to read fluently. Of course, I would prefer her to read books, but for now, my kids only enjoy consuming books when I read them to them before bedtime.

For me, the question remains open as to how not to force situations when something needs to be done, but the child resists and doesn’t want to. For example, cleaning up after oneself, regularly brushing teeth, or doing boring homework assigned by school. In general, those things that must be done, but don’t generate much enthusiasm in the process.

Another example is when Alice did ballet. She asked me to take her to ballet classes when she was 3 years old, and she enjoyed it until she was 5. Then, as she progressed, the classes became more serious — the teachers started making remarks and pointing out mistakes, and Alice didn’t like that. She immediately decided to quit. For some time, we tried to persuade her, and we even tried transferring her to another group with a different teacher, but when we saw that it wasn’t helping and she was determined, we gave in.

So, the question of finding a balance between not imposing and teaching responsibility and the ability to overcome difficulties remains open to me.

9. Allow boredom

It is important to make time for unstructured play, where children come up with their own activities.

There is less and less time when we are simply left to ourselves. We live in a constant stream of tasks, information, or entertainment imposed on us from the outside. So much of our lives are spent in a reactive state, where we react to external stimuli, instead of being proactive and deciding where to direct our attention, spend time in reflection, and understand what we truly want to do in the moment.

It is beneficial to let children experience boredom — simply not directing or offering anything. No TV or iPad during this time — let them learn to be alone with themselves, learn to fill the inner void and boredom that we all fear so much, not with external distractions, but with internal interests.

Therefore, it is important not to overload a child’s schedule with activities and tutors. Make sure to leave 1–2 hours a day during the workweek and 3–4 hours on weekends for independent play.

That’s why we limit screen time with iPads or TV. Of course, children may complain that it’s boring, but I always have one response for them, which has become a family meme: “Boring is good.” In those moments, their imagination and creativity take flight — they build forts out of furniture, play pretend games with each other, draw, dance, and all of this happens without the involvement of parents.

10. Questions are better than answers

Children ask hundreds of questions every day. Sometimes I sit down to watch a movie, and if Alice (7 years old) is nearby and becomes interested in the movie, I have to watch it while being bombarded with an endless stream of questions. Usually, I can’t finish watching — my patience runs out before that.

Usually, the flow of questions is not as concentrated but rather regular. I try not to give answers to every question. Instead, I respond with a question myself, like “What do you think?” or “What’s our opinion?” I suggest asking Google or Alexa or searching on YouTube. When the child answers, I continue to show interest in why they think that way. Why is it exactly like that and not something else? How would their opinion change if something in the information given changed? Very interesting discussions arise.

Recently, my wife Katya noticed that Alisa had learned about the concept of opportunity cost at school. She thought it was quite advanced material for a 7-year-old and asked her what it meant. Alice explained it to her, seemingly as they were taught in school: “It’s when you have to choose to play ‘hide and seek’ or tag, and if you choose ‘hide and seek,’ you cannot play tag anymore.” Katya asked, “How would you choose?” To which Alisa paused for a moment and came up with her own version: “Actually, I would choose to hide and tag.” :))

Firstly, such dialogues give the child confidence that their opinion matters — that it is being listened to.

Secondly, it teaches them to think critically: to question conclusions, differentiate between facts, hypotheses, and conclusions.

Thirdly, the child learns that adults don’t know everything either and that they can successfully find answers to their own questions.

Humor and irony, in my opinion, also develop critical thinking. Children quickly learn to distinguish between fiction and reality and start making jokes in a similar style.

Recently, Roni (4 years old) was playing hide and seek with Alisa (7 years old) at home, and Roni approached Katya holding a picture of Alisa and asked with a serious face, “Mom, do you happen to know this girl? Her name is Alisa. I’m looking for her.” :) It was hilarious.

Also, when a child answers questions, it helps them develop storytelling skills. In the United States, they start developing storytelling skills from kindergarten. They have an exercise called “show and tell” where they have to bring a toy from home and tell a story about it to the other children in the group.

Well, those are the main ten principles of parenting that I try to adhere to. Do I always succeed in following them? No, of course not. But I don’t get upset because the first principle is to start with myself, and I’m not perfect, nor do I expect perfection.

Are there no other principles? Surely there are, but for the sake of the clickable title, I wanted to stick to 10, and these are the ten that seemed essential at the time of writing this article.