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I stumbled upon this book “How children succeed” – Paul Tough when I was looking for good parenting books, and hope that I can learn some good tricks to raise my son, make him smarter (he’s 26 months old now). Who don’t want your children smarter, right? But it took me by surprise that I learned a lot for myself from this book too.

So what make children succeed? Or what make children fail?


Is it true that kids come from poorer families has lesser chance to succeed in academy and in life, compared to kids come from richer families? Although there’re stories about kid from extremely poor family that perform outstandingly sometimes make the headlines but I personally think those are rare exceptions. I believe that kids come from richer families obviously do better in school and have eventually will be more successful in life. Do you agree with me?

People have done a lot of data analysis and find out that children growing up from poverty have higher chance to quit school early, get unplanned pregnancy, commit crime, and die earlier. What makes money or financial material have such huge impact on a development of a child? Do they really need that much? Are they the better milk powder, better nutrition, better childcare, or more educational toys, more tuition classes that make the difference?

It turns out that the stress is the culprit, not the money. What stress can an infant or a baby feel, you may ask? Researcher found out that if a pregnant woman feel stress, the baby in her womb feels it too. Yes, baby can feel stress since they are inside their mother’s womb.

If you want to know the details how the stress can affect the child, you must read the book. It’s quite complicated to explain in 1 blogpost. But in short, there is a fire fighting system that embedded into our brain. When we feel fear or anxiety, our brain triggers this fire fighting system, which makes physical reactions like increased heart rate, glucose levels rise, prepare our body to fight back… Imagine if you’re under stresses all the time, what could happen? The tricky thing about this process is that it’s not actually the stress itself that messes us up, but it’s the body’s reaction to the stress. A child which see his parent arguing or fighting everyday, or a child was physically/mentally abused, they are under stress. And it make extremely damages to his mind, his character and behaviour development. And obviously kids from the richer families have better chance to avoid these stresses.

So if your work is stressful, deal with it at company, don’t bring it home. If you and your spouse wants to argue on something, don’t do it in front of the child. Do think twice before committing any crime if you are parent, it will leave wounds & scars in your children’s heart and mind.

So what can we do to protect our child from these stresses? Yes, there is. And it can’t be bought using money. It’s LOVE. People did an interesting experiment on lab mice. They took the mouse baby (the pups) away from its mother (the dams) and they observed that the pups stress indicator increase obviously. When they returned the pups back to the dams, some dams come near, lick and groom her pups. They measured again the stress indicator of the pups and surprisingly those pups that were licked and groomed by their mother, the stress disappeared. This works the same on human. If a baby was loved and cared, he feels safe and secured. So in the end, a child do not need much material, he only needs basic things and lots, lots of love. Having a secure attachment with parent is not the secret of his success but it is a big, big part of it.


So a child has lots of love, and stress-free will be successful, is that so simple?

We can see a lot of children these days who come from middle-class and rich families who surely are so stress-free that don’t need to do anything except eat, sh*t and study. Some go to school because their parent told them to, and don’t know what to do next after graduating. These children get bigger in size and older in age but they don’t grow up. They have no character and obviously they cannot be successful.

This is common fault of parents, especially Asian parent, who usually overprotect our children. We love the child so much that we want to provide everything for our child, to protect him from all harm. But we also need to know that if we want him to succeed, we need to first let him fall. As a toddler, when he learn to walk, he will fall down, you should be besides him to make sure he is ok but don’t pull him up just yet, let him get back up on his own. As he grows bigger, let him face his own problems. You should talk to him and give him advices but let him solve it by himself, do not solve the problem for him. It might be faster if you solve it yourself but you will steal his chance to face his own problem. We need him to learn to manage failure, learn from failure and avoid making same mistake again. That’s how a child grow up.


After reading this book, I felt thankful for having loving and caring parent who had raised me up in the best way they could. I felt blessed for having my grandpa who taught me chess and play chess with me when I was small. I’m filled with gratitude for all the challenges in life that make me fall hard and make me try harder to get back and to be who I am today. I’m still fighting hard to find success and I know I will be there.

Steve Pham