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A parent’s guide to nurturing high achievers

child holding trophy- high achiever's guide
Jessica Klaus/Stocksy

As a lifelong high achiever, a coach for high achievers and now a parent to high achievers, I’ve
come to understand the unique challenges and needs of children who naturally excel in
academic and extracurricular pursuits. These children stand out for their remarkable self-
motivation, organization and consistent performance—they are the ones diligently turning in
assignments on time, scoring high grades and are often perceived as “perfect” kids.

However, this pursuit of excellence can come with its own set of challenges. High achievers
often grapple with perfectionism, people-pleasing and overthinking, frequently suffering in
silence. They can easily become entrapped in societal molds, losing sight of their authentic
selves and, especially, forgetting to have fun.

Drawing on my personal journey and professional experience, here are six key strategies for
parents to nurture high achievers, ensuring they grow not just in competence, but also in
happiness and health.

1. Encourage activities beyond academics

For high achievers, the emphasis on balanced development is crucial. These children, often
focused intently on academic success, can inadvertently neglect their personal growth and the
importance of forging meaningful relationships. It’s vital to encourage activities beyond
academics, such as sports, arts or community service. These pursuits not only foster personal
growth and empathy but also teach valuable life skills like teamwork and resilience.

In particular, community service can be profoundly impactful, exposing high achievers to diverse
perspectives and instilling a sense of social responsibility and the importance of community and
connection. These experiences broaden their understanding of the world and the role they can
play in it. As parents, guiding your high-achieving child to balance their academic pursuits with
these enriching activities is key to nurturing well-rounded individuals who are prepared for both
personal and professional success.

2. Valuing emotional intelligence alongside performance

High achievers are often innately driven to excel, whether in academics, sports or any chosen
activity. This drive to master and perfect their skills is a defining characteristic, as they are
naturally inclined towards high academic performance and intellectual pursuits. However, this
singular focus on intellectual pursuits and tangible achievements can overshadow the equally
crucial aspect of emotional intelligence.

Developing emotional intelligence is pivotal for high achieving children, especially as they tend
to be their own harshest critics and may suffer in silence. Childhood is the opportune time for parents to guide them in understanding and managing their emotions, building resilience and adopting self-care practices. Engaging in regular, open conversations about feelings, challenges and coping strategies is essential. These discussions can help high achievers navigate their complex inner worlds, making them less prone to depression and anxiety.

Emotional intelligence skills are lifelong assets, especially for high achievers who often face
intense scrutiny and high expectations. By balancing academic and performance-focused
pursuits with emotional learning, high achievers can grow into well-adjusted individuals
equipped to handle the myriad challenges life presents.

3. Fostering individual passions and purpose in high achievers

Supporting a child’s unique passions and purposes is crucial, particularly for high achievers.
Often, these children have a wide array of opportunities open to them, making it tempting for
parents to steer them towards traditionally prestigious, high-earning careers like medicine, law
or engineering. However, this approach can inadvertently project our unfulfilled aspirations or
definitions of success onto them, rather than nurturing their individual interests and aspirations.

It’s essential to give high achieving children the space to explore and align with their true calling,
even if it veers off the conventional path. Encourage them to delve into their interests and
engage in open conversations about their career aspirations, focusing on what genuinely
excites and motivates them rather than societal prestige or parental notions of security. Such
support not only paves the way for their success but also ensures their journey is marked by
fulfillment and happiness. When high achievers align their endeavors with their personal
passions, they not only excel but also cultivate a deep sense of satisfaction and joy in their
achievements.

4. Explore personalized techniques for wellness and well-being

One of the key aspects of supporting high achieving children is teaching them wellness and
well-being techniques. It’s vital to provide them with a range of tools, such as therapy,
mindfulness practices, yoga, journaling or breathwork, to effectively manage stress and prevent
burnout. These practices foster a crucial balance between striving for excellence and
maintaining mental health. However, it’s essential to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all
solution. Our challenges are just as unique as the methods that effectively address them.

The most important factor is to expose high achieving children to various options, allowing them
to discover what resonates with them personally. This process of exploration is valuable in itself,
promoting a proactive approach to seeking support and trying new strategies. By introducing
them to a spectrum of wellness techniques, we empower them to find their unique pathway to
manage stress and nurture their mental well-being, which is just as important as nurturing their
academic or professional excellence.

5. Nurture their creativity

Encouraging creativity is fundamental for the growth and development of high achieving
children. It serves as a refreshing break from their usual structured, achievement-focused
activities. Engaging in creative outlets like painting, music or innovative problem-solving
exercises stimulate their minds in new and exciting ways. Creative endeavors, almost by
definition, resist the idea of perfection, and for high achievers who so often focus on “getting it
right,” engaging their creative sides also promotes a more resilient, growth mindset. This
freedom to explore and experiment is crucial as it fosters a sense of innovation and flexibility,
traits that are invaluable in both personal and professional spheres.

For high achievers, creativity is often the missing piece in a life filled with pursuits of excellence.
As adults, they may find themselves with little time for creative endeavors or may not prioritize
them. Thus, it is essential to instill the importance of creativity from a young age. Encouraging
them to set aside time for creative activities can offer a much-needed respite from the relentless
chase for accolades. More importantly, it can lead to long-term satisfaction and fulfillment. By
nurturing their creative skills and interests, parents can help high achieving children develop a
diversified personality, ensuring that they grow into adults who value and integrate creativity into
their lives.

6. Be the bedrock of support: Offering unconditional love

One of the most meaningful roles a parent can play in the life of a high achiever is to be their
bedrock of support, offering unconditional love at every turn. It’s essential to continually remind
them that their worth is not solely tied to their achievements or accolades. This unwavering
support is the cornerstone of their self-esteem and confidence, both of which are vital for their
overall growth and success.

High achievers often face enormous pressure, whether at work, in academic settings or within
their social circles. They are frequently judged, hyper-scrutinized and may even experience
bullying. When they turn to you, it’s important to listen empathetically and refrain from
immediately offering opinions or solutions. There will be times when they might call to share
their troubles or anxieties. These moments are crucial; they need you to listen, open your arms
and reassure them of their value. Remind them that it’s okay to make mistakes, that they don’t
need to be perfect or please everyone. Your role is to be that safe haven where they are
reminded that they are loved and valued for who they are, beyond any achievement or failure.

Nurturing a high achieving child means encouraging more than just academic or professional
excellence but also supporting their holistic development, ensuring they grow into emotionally
intelligent, resilient and well-rounded individuals. This involves fostering their creativity,
teaching them to manage stress effectively and supporting their passions and individual
aspirations. Most importantly, it’s about providing a foundation of unconditional love and
support, reminding them that their worth extends far beyond their achievements. As parents and
mentors, our goal should be to help high achievers not only succeed in their endeavors but also
find joy, fulfillment and balance in their lives. This comprehensive approach ensures they are
equipped not just for success in the traditional sense but for a rich, fulfilling life that aligns with
their deepest values and aspirations.