Optimal Child Development: 20 Tips for Parents

Optimal Child Development: 20 Tips for Parents

Optimal Child Development: 20 Tips for Parents

Kids have been “at home” much more these past few months—and parents continue to seek ways to support their children’s development. Here are 20 suggestions that are central to children’s well-being.

How can parents help their children develop an authentic sense of self, competence, strong values, and the confidence to be creative? The following suggestions are always relevant, but perhaps amidst the challenges posed by the COVID crisis it is even more important to focus on ways to support children’s successes. 


1. Success comes in many different forms. Encourage kids to find opportunities to do something positive whenever possible. To be kind, contribute to the community and to the greater good, and benefit others in some way.

2. Show appreciation for children’s accomplishments. Convey recognition, reinforcement and pride. Emphasize growth and progress. Help them find a good educational match. (See How Children Learn: Fit, Fairness, and Flexibility for suggestions.) 

3. Help kids understand the perspectives of other individuals and groups. This includes being respectful of race, religion, sexual orientation, age, feelings, ability levels, and various differences among people—and how these differences can broaden ways of thinking and doing. 

4. Demonstrate how to make connections between values and actions. For example, what it means—and what it looks like—to have integrity, and to be honest, patient, altruistic, kind, forgiving, empathic, and grateful. (Here is an article entitled The Power of Gratitude, and another on Kindling Kindness.) 

5. Respect children’s privacy. Try not to hover or micro-manage.

6. Listen. Intentionally, and as a way to learn and understand what children have to say. (Or what they may be hesitant to say…)

7. During times of change, risk, or turbulence (such as that caused by the COVID-19 pandemic) be sure to take into account children’s personal concerns and feelings. Be available to answer questions, and to offer guidance and coping strategies. Be resourceful and acquire information if need be, and professional counselling if circumstances dictate. 

8. Dilemmas and predicaments are inevitable. For example, these might have to do with conflicts, lack of motivation, the complexities of moral issues, or how to deal with emotional upheavals. Ensure that lines of communication are open. Demonstrate problem-solving and calming tactics. 

9. Life balance is paramount. Many children struggle while trying to juggle various demands. Kids need ample time to rest, play, unwind, exercise, and just be kids. 

10. Expectations should be clear, and well suited to a child’s areas of strength and weakness. It’s best to offer kids choice—to adopt a flexible range-of options approach to tasks—and to be responsive to children’s changing needs, interests, and concerns.

11.The ability to think is integral to personal development. “Reflection contributes to a child’s intelligence, achievement, and creativity. Reflection may take many forms, such as mindfulness, review, critical analysis, meditation, or letting ideas percolate… By learning to reflect generously, regularly, and astutely, kids can foster their intelligence and enrich their lives.” (To learn more about reflection, check out the article Reflective Habits of Mind—and Kids.)

12. Give kids realistic feedback about themselves. For instance, if children misbehave or act out, help them understand the consequences or effects (upon them and upon others), and model alternative forms of behavior. Be constructive. Parents can respond to inappropriate behavior without criticizing the child.

13. As children mature and develop reasoning skills (and, later, abstract thinking skills), help them make good choices and smart decisions. (See the article Empowering  Kids to Make Decisions.) 

14. Encourage children to value—and tap—connectivity with caring others who can provide support. This might include family members, teachers, coaches, mentors, or friends who can offer guidance and reassurance. There is strength through collaboration and community.

15. Resilience can fuel forward momentum. Help children learn to get around and through challenge or uncertainty by finding creative or concerted ways to make difficult situations tolerable, and by overcoming hurdles. Here are some quotes about resilience to share with kids. And, see the COVID-19 material marked by an asterisk * on the Resources Page of my website

16. Watch for possible complications and obstacles and pay close attention to children’s emotional health. (Here are two articles with lots of practical tips for parents, on Children’s Well-being and on Nurturing Children’s Creative Wellness During COVID-19.)    

17. The best kinds of learning activities are those that are meaningful, motivational, manageable, and multisensory in nature. (Four memorable M words!) However, be aware that some kids may need more assistance with specific aspects of learning activities such as technology, structure, time management, organization, or pacing.

18. Life has its ups and downs, and ultimately kids have to learn to navigate both. Encourage children’s autonomy so they can extend intellectual, social, and emotional independence, physical comfort zones, and horizons. 

19. More and more it seems, young people are seizing reins of responsibility—showing that they have the wherewithal to be proactive and competent, thereby realizing progress and attaining success. (See Ambitious and Purposeful Kids [In an Increasingly Chaotic World]). Kids can and should engage in growth-oriented initiatives such as creative problem-solving, pro-active goal-setting, entrepreneurship, relationship-building, mentorships, and volunteerism. (See, also, Front-Runners.)

20. Give children a strong appreciation for curiosity, exploration, the arts, reading, adaptability, and a solid work ethic. These are important because they can enhance intelligence, engagement, and creative expression, and lead to fulfillment.


“Convey faith in children’s capabilities. Confidence happens when children feel respected, connected, and competent. Choice, resourcefulness, and assistance can also be beneficial helping kids to embrace a more empowering sense of self. We all need a boost now and then.”        From ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 79.

Parents are well positioned to help their children develop their capacities, invest effort, feel empowered, and become the best they can be. The 20 tips above provide a solid framework and sensible reference for offering support and encouragement, so children can have a robust sense of self and learn to face challenges, now and into the future. 



Joanne Foster’s most recent book is ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids: Hundreds of Ways to Inspire Your Child.  Readers can find further information about optimal child development by checking out Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster.) Dr. Foster also wrote Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate (recipient of the Independent Book Publishers’ Association’s 2018 Silver Benjamin Franklin Award), and its predecessor Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. To learn more about these books, and for access to a wide range of articles and links, please go to www.joannefoster.ca. Information about professional development workshops and speaker sessions with Dr. Foster can also be found at this website.

For excellent resources on supporting and encouraging gifted/high-level development see the assortment of material at Gifted Unlimited LLC

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