Raising Super Successful Kids with Ron Ferguson and Tatsha Robertson

How can you set your kids up for success? What parenting techniques result in well-adjusted adults? What are the secrets of parents who have highly successful kids?

Ron Ferguson, MIT-trained economist and Harvard professor, and Tatsha Robertson, a distinguished journalist, wondered this too. So they joined forces to interview 120 Harvard students and their parents about what parenting approaches played a role in their success. The result is their book, The Formula: Unlocking the Secrets to Raising Highly Successful Children.

In this special episode, Resilience Radio host Kim Ades chats with Ron Ferguson and Tatsha Robertson about what it takes to be a master parent.

In this episode, we explore:

  • 3 key qualities fostered by master parents.
  • What it really means to be successful.
  • 8 roles that parents play in raising successful kids.
  • When to advocate vs when to let kids fight their own battles.
  • Whether or not you should parent each of your kids differently.
  • The role of discipline in parenting.


“We have an equation, which is Smarts + Purpose + Agency = Fully Realized.

-Ron Ferguson

Take a Listen!

Transcription: Raising Super Successful Kids with Ron Ferguson and Tatsha Robertson

Here is a very interesting snippet of our conversation! See transcription (06:43 – 13:24):

Kim: In your book, you describe the three key qualities that are fostered by master parents, as you call them.

Tatsha: Mm-hmm.

Kim: What are those key qualities and how do you define them?

Ron: We have an equation, which is Smarts plus Purpose plus Agency equals Fully Realized.

Kim: Please explain.

Ron: Okay. Smarts is just what people think it is; a child who has mental dexterity, who can encounter a set of ideas or facts and make sense of them.  

Purpose is having a sense of direction, having some notion of what you want to change about the world, some propensity to set goals.  

Agency is the gumption to actually go after those goals. It’s that get up and go. It’s the opposite of helplessness.

So if you’re smart enough to do it, you know what it is you want to do and you don’t feel helpless, you’re likely to go after it and you’re likely to become fully realized, which means you’ll make the most of your human potential. But it’s not about grades and it’s not about test scores, although the grades and test scores of the people we looked at tended to be pretty high.

Tatsha: I have to say, it is about grades. The truth is, this book is really about smart kids with a purpose, so academics do play a big role.

Ron: It does. We also talk about the notion that if you have a kid who is not likely to be a superstar, but who is doing the best they can do, we think the formula applies to them too. In the book, we look at superstars, and I totally agree with Tatsha that these people are near the top of the heap.

Tatsha: And the reason we did that is because if you really want to find a formula, you have to look at the top of the heap, and you really have to look at how they were parented. But I think Ron is exactly right. We were attending a workshop as we were writing this book and one of my writing coaches told us about his son and how he improved by using the formula.

So Ron is right, but for this particular book, the people in the book are top of the crop, but they’re also highly, highly purposeful. And they’re the type of people who will one day change the world if they have not already started.

Kim: When we talk about maximizing potential, are we talking about maximizing career potential, or do we mean having the most fulfilling life personally and relationship wise? What are we really talking about?

Ron: We’re talking about having the most fulfilling life. And we have a chapter on what we mean by success in which we contrast hedonism with eudemonia. Hedonism is a life that’s focused on pleasure, having fun and experiencing luxury. Eudemonia, on the other hand, is a life that’s focused on getting the most out of yourself and experiencing what it feels like to learn something well, to deeply understand something, to build your skills in a direction that matches up well with things that you’re interested in.

Each one of us has our own destiny, so to speak, in terms of what it is that self-realization entails for us. But it’s self-generated. It’s not about somebody else’s notion of what success is.  It’s about the notion of success that each of us separately comes up with that connects to what makes the most of our life; we’ve done all we can and been all that we really want to be in a particular domain of our self-chosen interest.

Kim: Okay, got it. And when you talk about agency, you’re really talking about a person’s sense of not just self-confidence, but their ability to take the information they have, the knowledge they have, the purpose they have and turn it into something, do something. It’s the action component.

Ron: Right. Agency is about doing it, getting up and getting it done and not feeling helpless, not procrastinating too much.

Tatsha: Many of the people we interviewed had a strong sense of agency when they were children. For example, we talked about a young man named Sangu. Sangu was from Ghana. His father was a village doctor. And he and his father would have these amazing, amazing conversations; conversations that some people may think were too advanced for a five-year-old child. They were just fascinating, philosophical conversations.

And Sangu became so curious. He would ask about war. And instead of the father just answering the question, he would suggest that Sangu write to Kofi Annan, and that’s exactly what Sangu did and Kofi Annan responded. And then when Sangu was older, around 14 years old, he wanted to go to school in America.

So by now, his father didn’t have to suggest it. Sangu went on his own, looked on the computer, found a scholarship and saved some money to get his own flight. And then he went to his parents and said, “I just won a scholarship to America, and I already have the money to fly there.”

Now, the parents were shocked, but they were also kind of excited that their son would take the initiative to do something. And they knew they had started working on him at a very young age, so they were not shocked that at 14 years old, he would have that sense of agency.

Raising successful kids begins with you, the parent. It starts with how you manage yourself and what you model for your children.

What do you think your kids see when they look at you? Do they witness someone who is calm, strong and ambitious, or someone who is short-tempered, distracted and stressed?  If you asked them, would they say you were attentive and present, or would they say that you had other things on your mind?

One of the greatest benefits of Frame of Mind Coaching™ is the ripple effect that happens to the kids of the leaders we coach. When leaders transform, the impact of the change in their thinking not only affects their business life, but their family also experiences the positive impact in a major way.

If your communication with your kids could be better, more open or more fun, then you should explore how coaching can help you. To learn more about Frame of Mind Coaching™ and how our model can help you become a master parent, schedule a complimentary coaching call with us.

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