Give your children a central role in becoming more successful

By Professor Valsa Koshy, Brunel University, UK

This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the launch of our intervention programmes for children aged 4 to 11 years old. Receiving the unexpected news of being included in the New Years Honours list for my contribution to education added much pleasure and humility to my celebrations:

On Friday 22nd March,  after receiving my badge  from Her Majesty the Queen herself for my contribution to Education, most of which involved striving hard to find ways to support how we can enhance children’s lives, I came home with a mixture of pride for the recognition of my humble work and a strong desire to share some of what I have learnt from many years of research with the rest of the world. Here are just 3 of the ways you can help your children.

Over the past few years I have spoken to over 800 parents, from all backgrounds, through focus group discussions and individual interviews and, in our most recent project, we worked with 700 lower-income parents of young children (5 to 11 years old) in neighbouring schools, with 154 of them forming a representative sample for data gathering. Parents were told that the project was based on our belief that all children deserve a happy childhood full of joy, optimism, and good physical health and children thrive best in environments which acknowledge their special strengths, help them in mastering challenges and in sharing their interests, curiosity, creativity, critical thinking skills and depth of understanding and how they can help with this.

My latest book for parents Find andNurture Your Child’s Gifts: Boost your Child’s Learning Potential and Wellbeing (4-11 years) formed the basis of the intervention. Parents were provided with key readings about aspects of intelligence and wellbeing. Short activity books, which included tools for parents to help their children to think and talk with were provided. The academic and disciplined nature of the programme was very much appreciated by the parents and they provided extensive feedback. Information on what elements of the intervention parents found the most helpful was gathered.

Based on all the information gathered, we identified the following 3 general areas which parents found the most useful to help their children to succeed.

  1. Parents need to know and understand aspects of intelligence

For the purpose of the project we definedintelligence as ‘the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills’ and that we need to help children to increase their learning power.

Research evidence from neuroscience tells us a person’s intelligence is not fixed at birth and that it can increase and ability can change. Brain plasticity is the capacity of the brain to change and,the human brain maintains an amazing plasticity throughout life. . Greater understanding of aspects of intelligence helped parents to abandon deterministic views about educational stereotypes. Sharing the information that they can become better learners, in every case, helped children to put in more effort and lifted them out of the feeling of hopelessness.

Liam’s ( 8- years old) mother told us ‘my son was rounded up in the playground and teased and called a ‘dunce’ because he was in the bottom group (lowest set) for maths. When I told him that people can learn better by putting in more effort instead of giving up his eyes lit up. He started working hard. I also told him if he talked about his ideas his brain will make more connections. He took it literally and I found him talking to our cat about different shapes and their properties. He told me he is getting more ticks and his teacher has told him he will be moved up a group soon. He said to me that it means ‘I don’t always have to be in the bottom set.’   

Harvard University Professor Gardner’s theory, that intelligence  is multi-dimensional and is displayed in different fields, helped Parents to acknowledge children’s special talents, and  their self-esteem went up; they  worked harder at all subjects,  leading to general higher achievement.

 8-year old Elena’s mother said ‘Elena tells us that she has found her ‘special intelligence’ and it is ‘bodily kinaesthetic intelligence’ (very good at movement, dance, sports) after we discussed people having different kinds of intelligences. Although these are not tested in school, she is more motivated, has higher self-esteem and has improved in her academic results.

The message and examples which showed that children’s abilities do not depend on their parents’ social backgrounds were well received and changed children’s attitudes and aspirations.

A letter from a father about his daughter, Mia, who was then 4-years old, was read out by one parent as the most useful of the messages:

When Mia started reading shop signs and words on shopping packages at the age of three, we thought she was picking these up from our conversations. But when she started reading fluently at three, it was a shock, because I myself can’t read that much and we are very poor. My wife can read but she hasn’t taught her to read. You just don’t expect this from our sort of background.

By following advice, Mia is now at a very prestigious University studying medicine.

  • Find and help children to develop their  passions

Most children we worked with enjoyed undertaking personal passion projects. Some changed their passion and others stuck to them.   I have been told by parents that this is the most single thing they would cite as making their children happier, more fulfilled. It reduces anxiety and is an excellent way to spot your children’s special talents. They loved hearing the stories of people who achieved great things, who had shown no extraordinary abilities when they were young. People like Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and Roald Dahl were not described as highly gifted children; but they had a passion for learning and put in tremendous effort, which led to their great achievements.

 9-year old Lexi, who was suffering from intense anxiety and was about to be referred to a psychologist, started her passion project on reading; she developed higher self-esteem, pride in her work and no longer needed treatment for anxiety

  • Develop your children’s wellbeing

Parents have a vital role to play in addressing their children’s wellbeing. There is very strong evidence that many young children lack self-esteem, are being subjected to bullying and suffer high levels of anxiety which can all lead them feeling depressed and causing self-harm.

One parent told me ‘we only spend an hour with him when we just talk together. Our dinner time is filled with laughter with jokes he made up and, instead of watching television, he spends time making books of his interests. His school work improved beyond our dreams’.

In my recent project, there are many instances of children taking charge of their wellbeing after parents sharing information with them. Parents tell me that they are making nuisances of themselves in supermarkets studying sugar contents of cereals, making charts of how much sleep they are getting and the amount of water they drink in a day.

Future direction

Was it all joy and optimism? What keeps me awake at night? Since the project outcomes were shared and perhaps due to the power of social media , e-mails and letters have come flooding in from parents who told me they would like a website dedicated to supporting them , based on our findings and, that they could not afford to buy the book. I can well believe it because head teachers tell me that they provide mid-morning snack to many children who come to school hungry and fall asleep in lessons and, recently BBC news reported that many children are living in shipping containers. . I am optimistic that I can start a national support scheme for parents to help their children to succeed.  


Find and Nurture Your Child’s Gifts: Boost your Child’s Learning Potential and Wellbeing (4-11 years) by Professor Valsa Koshy and Dr Elizabeth Koshy Published by enrichchildrenslives ISBN: 978-1900905-15-2