How to act as the smartest kid in school

How an information mismatch is costing America’s best colleges 20,000 low-income students every year.

How to act as the smartest kid in school

Photo by Eric Gay/AP

Each year, middle-class American high-school seniors with good grades go through a familiar ritual of the college application process. They file a bunch of applications—perhaps after visiting several schools—submitting test scores, grades, essays, and letters of recommendation. They apply to a “reach” school or two and a “safety” school or two along with some in the middle. The idea is to see where you can get in and then decide where you want to go after researching both the quality of the schools on offer and the actual financial cost of attending. It’s a system that’s a bit stressful and annoying, but it basically works. Students get matched with schools that roughly suit their level of academic preparation and people have a chance to shop around a bit for the myriad forms of financial aid that make college attendance feasible.

But it doesn’t work for poor kids. It turns out that over and above all the other disadvantages one faces growing up poor in America, the majority of high-achieving kids from low-income backgrounds fail to apply to any selective colleges.

This grim discovery comes from Caroline Hoxby of Stanford’s economics department and Christopher Avery from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. It adds to our understanding of structural inequality in America and the striking barriers to social mobility. But in a sense it’s an optimistic story, suggesting that there continues to be plenty of low-hanging fruit in American education. Relatively simple reforms could unlock a great deal of currently wasted talent, with big payoffs for poor kids and society at large.

Most high-achieving students—defined as those with SAT or ACT scores in the top 10 percent—come from high-income families. Thirty-four percent are from the top quartile, and 27 percent are in the next quartile. Just 17 percent of high-achieving students are from families estimated to be in the bottom quartile of the income distribution. But while low-income students are underrepresented among high achievers, 17 percent is still a lot of people—something like 25,000 to 35,000 per year. Of those, about 70 percent are white, 15 percent Asian, and 15 percent black or Hispanic.

High-income, high-achieving students generally do what you’d expect. Most of their applications are to schools where the median admissions test score is similar to what they got. But they apply to some reach schools and most to a safety school. Generally they apply to the local flagship state university campus, which is sometimes a match and sometimes a reach depending on the state.

Low-income students are very different. Fully 53 percent of them apply to zero schools whose median SAT or ACT scores are similar to their own. Many of these smart, poor kids apply only to a single unselective school. Only a very small percentage of these kids—8 percent of them, the authors estimate—act the same as high-achievement kids from prosperous families by applying to selective schools, including some reaches and safeties.

Hoxby and Avery label the 53 percent “income-typical” and the 8 percent “achievement-typical.” They find that that small minority of students who exhibit achievement-typical application behavior do just as well as higher-income students at actually enrolling in and graduating from college. When poor kids apply to good schools, in other words, they’re just as likely to get in as more affluent ones are. The selective colleges deliver enough financial aid to make it possible for achievement-typical kids to attend, and they’re able to do the work and graduate.

But income-typical and achievement-typical students seem to come from very different places. Statistically speaking, the achievement-typical are more likely to live in core municipalities than suburbs or rural areas. They’re more likely to come from larger metro areas than smaller ones. Income-typical students’ schools are smaller and are less likely to feature any teachers who’ve attended selective colleges or have other students who attended such colleges recently.

The mismatch, in other words, is double-sided. Selective schools looking to recruit low-income students with strong test scores are looking at a few hot spots with unusually high densities of such kids and ignoring the long tail of smart kids in smaller cities, in rural areas, and outside magnet programs. Selective schools also seem disproportionately focused on their own areas, such that a small city that’s near highly selective colleges (Providence, R.I., or even Portland, Maine) sends more kids to selective schools than a much larger city such as Atlanta, Miami, or Phoenix. Meanwhile many low-income students simply don’t encounter teachers or other school personnel who’d be in a position to inform them about available financial aid and encourage them to apply to more selective institutions.

There are some logistical barriers to improving recruiting—it’s cheaper to recruit nearby and in bigger high schools—but they hardly seem insurmountable. If colleges start to realize how many high-achieving low-income students they’re missing, they might send their recruiting staff further afield. What’s more, written communications can easily target students regardless of location. The key is that written outreach needs to be specially tailored to the circumstances of low-income students whose personal networks don’t include graduates of selective schools. That means emphasizing the real cost of attendance rather than headline tuition, and the fact that there are gradations of school quality beyond Harvard vs. Other. And success could build on itself. If selective schools did a better job of reaching out to lower-income students, they’d build more diverse alumni networks.

Nunchi is the art of sensing what other people are thinking and feeling — and then responding appropriately. It's the ability to quickly read a room with the emphasis on the collective, not on specific individuals.

Speed is paramount to nunchi. Those who have "quick" nunchi continuously recalibrate their assumptions based on any new word, gesture or facial expression, so that they're always present and aware.

In Korea, nunchi is a superpower. Some even go as far as to say it allows you to read minds, though there's nothing supernatural about it. A well-honed and quick nunchi can help you choose the right partner in life or business, shine at work, protect you against those who mean you harm and even reduce social anxiety.

It's easy to confuse nunchi with empathy, but having too much empathy can be destabilizing. Nunchi, on the other hand, puts quiet observation first; it allows you to stay on firm ground while still listening to the other person.

To harness the power of nunchi, all you need are your eyes and ears. And the hardest part: a quiet mind.

'Why don't you have any nunchi?'

In traditional Korean child-rearing, nunchi is on a par with "Look both ways before crossing the street" and "Don't hit your sister." Parents teach their kids about nunchi starting as early as the age of three. (The tradition follows a well-known expression that goes: "A habit formed at age three lasts until age 80.")

"Why do you have no nunchi?!" is a common parental chastisement. As a child, I remember having accidentally offended a family friend, and defending myself to my father by saying, "I didn't mean to upset Jinny's mother!" To which my father replied, "The fact that the harm wasn't intentional doesn't make it better. It actually makes it worse."

Some Westerners might find my father's criticism difficult to understand. Wouldn't you prefer your child to be mean accidentally, rather than deliberately?

But here's another way to think about it: Children who choose to be mean at least know what they hope to achieve by it, whether it's getting even with a sibling or getting a rise out of a parent.

A child who is unaware of the consequences that their actions or words have on other people, however, is a child with no nunchi. And no matter how sweet and kind they are, they're likely to be on the losing end of life — unless that cluelessness is trained out of them.

Parenting with nunchi in mind

Korean parents instill nunchi by first teaching their children this crucial lesson: "It's not all about you."

I'm not a parent. But I can attest to the immeasurable value of being raised on this wisdom. Let's say a mother and her four-year-old son have been waiting at a buffet line for a long time, and the son starts to get impatient.

"We've been here forever! I'm hungry!" the son complains. A Korean mother won't respond with, "Oh, you poor thing! I'm sorry. Here, I have some grapes in my purse that can hold you over." Instead, she'll say, "Take a look at everyone else waiting in line, just like you. Now do you think you're the only person in this queue who is hungry?"

Measuring smarts is no easy feat — but schools across the country certainly try. American high school students, depending on the state, may take over 100 standardized tests before they graduate. These assessments help education officials gauge students’ abilities at certain grade levels across school districts and across states.

Proponents of standardized testing argue that these tests can encourage schools to improve, and can accurately predict a student’s chances for academic success in the future. Critics argue that such tests unfairly discriminate against non-English speakers and are not comprehensive enough in their assessment of student abilities.

Standardized testing remains a major component of the U.S. public education system, culminating in standardized tests that can be used in college admissions, such as ACT and SAT. Typically these tests are second in importance only to GPA in the college admissions process. And some schools appear better equipped to prepare students for success on standardized tests than others.

Using average SAT and ACT test scores from school data clearinghouse Niche , as well as the percentages of high school students who are proficient in math and reading on state assessments from the U.S. Department of Education , 24/7 Wall St. identified the 50 smartest public high schools in the United States.

We only considered the schools that rank in Niche’s top 300 public high schools. It is important to note that the schools on this list are numbered in alphabetical order by city and are not ranked. Smaller schools are at greater risk of large annual fluctuations in test scores, and therefore we only considered schools with an enrollment of over 500 in our analysis.

This list was formulated strictly on the basis of student test performance. It does not take into account other measures that are commonly used to gauge the quality of an education system, like Advanced Placement enrollment and graduation rates. Here is a look at the cities where the most people graduate high school .

How to act as the smartest kid in school

A smart child doesn’t always translate to a good report card. It seems like twisted logic, but there are actually many “smart” children who don’t get the grades parents would expect.

What’s happening here?

Many parents are unsure of how to help when their child’s grades start to slip, especially if he or she got good grades in the past. When this happens, knowing how to get your child back on track can be difficult—after all, there are a number of reasons students may receive poor grades.

That’s where we can help. Keep reading for some of the most common reasons your smart child may be getting bad grades.

9 Reasons Your Smart Child Is Getting Bad Grades

  1. Not being challenged enough

Bad grades aren’t always because your child doesn’t understand the material. In some cases, when students aren’t challenged enough by the material it can actually lead to poor grades. If your child isn’t being challenged enough, he or she may find class boring. This can lead to attention issues in class that result in poor performance and falling grades.

Classrooms are full of distractions that can make it hard for students to focus on what they are learning. For some students, these distractions are difficult to tune out, which can lead to missing important information that they will need to know in the future for upcoming tests or advanced concepts.

Some students simply don’t test well, no matter how smart they are. Many of these students suffer from what’s called test anxiety. Even though they know the material, the thought of a test causes an overwhelming feeling of stress that makes it difficult for them to perform as well as they could.

For many students, the problem of poor grades comes down to ineffective study habits. Whether it’s waiting until the last minute to study or not properly understanding the material, poor study habits have a big impact on student performance.

Many smart students also tend to be perfectionists who always want to perform their best. But putting so much pressure on themselves can lead to stress and low self-confidence. As a result, they may participate less in class and procrastinate when it comes to completing assignments—a recipe for more stress, less time, and lower grades.

Some students struggle with putting their thoughts into words, whether they’re speaking aloud or writing them down. Your child may have a strong grasp on the material that simply isn’t translating properly on his or her schoolwork and assignments.

Poor organization skills can lead to increased frustration, higher levels of stress, and lower grades. Without good organization skills, even the smartest children will struggle to properly plan and prepare for upcoming tests and assignments. The result? You guessed it—poor grades.

Help your child get more organized with these organization tips.

Achieving good grades takes time and effort. Many students struggle with poor grades on tests because they simply didn’t take the time to properly prepare. The underlying problem here is usually poor time management skills. As they progress through school to face more difficult subjects and a bigger workload, even good students may start to see their grades slip due to a lack of proper time management and preparation.

Lots of very bright students struggle with some kind of learning difficulty, whether in writing, reading, math, or another area. Poor grades in a particular area doesn’t necessarily mean your child has a learning difficulty. But if he or she consistently struggles and hasn’t seen improvement, a learning difficulty could be part of the issue.

How to act as the smartest kid in school

“Smart” Is Only Part Of The Equation

Even smart children need a boost every once in a while. Learn how your child can build upon his or her knowledge to achieve even more both inside and outside of the classroom.

This keeps me up at night since I know I'm a complete asshole who doesn't deserve what he has.

I am about to be a freshman in college, at a very good school I should not have been able to get into. I was never stupid, I got decent grades throughout high school.

When I took my ACT, I was seated next to the smartest kid in my school, way in the back corner as far away from the proctor as possible. This kid kept on putting their answer sheet off the side of their table to make more room for the questions, and it became too tempting.

I noticed that they somehow had the EXACT same test number, and I just couldn't resist any longer. I copied damn near every answer they put on the test, being sure to change some in order to not get accused of cheating.

They didn't notice, no one noticed, and I received my score a few weeks later, with a 34/36. My parents were losing their shit, my friends were losing their shit, and I felt like absolute garbage. I know what I did was wrong and immoral, but suddenly my life changed for the better.

People suddenly started to treat me like I was some sort of genius, especially my friends. I could never tell them I was a fraud who cheated.

I got into an amazing college due to my score, and I guarantee I would never have gotten here on my own. I did a horrible thing, but at the same time it opened up a world of opportunity for me. Just wanted to get this off my chest.

Make sure you don't take this for granted OP, give college your all and don't let that great opportunity go to waste

also, stop cheating before you get there because you are super lucky you weren't caught this time.

Better keep your grades up to match that ACT score. Same thing happened at my high school and people knew that the guy cheated (second highest scores, shit grades) but couldn't prove it. Got into a good college but flunked out.

My junior year I got a 2100 out of 2400 on my SAT and a 218 on my PSAT without cheating, but I was still making making B's in AP english and physics and PreCal because I fell asleep a lot. No one ever suggested that I had cheated, even though all the other people who were recognized for high PSAT scores were ranked top 12 and I was much lower. My grades did get a lot better my senior year, after I started drinking coffee, so maybe if I continued to do poorly in school, a counselor would've talked to me?

It could also be luck. Some tests happen to be easier than others and you could just get lucky and do well. I didn't study for my first act at all and well.

Do you really think the courses at Harvard are more difficult than the courses at, say, Michigan or Wisconsin? Your friend would have flunked out wherever he went.

Just take advantage of this amazing opportunity and excel at college. Standardized testing is an awful way to judge intelligence in the first place and what's done is done.

100% agree with you but I will go a little further. Up until my Master's Degree every test I had to take was standerdized. You had to remember how to use formulas, laws of whatever and so on and so forth. However when I got to start my Master's not one test was like that. Everything was take home. The school's thought behind this was that they didn't want you to forget what you learned. Sounds counter intuitive right? But it isn't. What was more important was that you got to spend time thinking about the questions on the test. Analyzing them and using critical thinking to answer those questions. In other words they wanted to challenge you but in a different way from what we have been thought in grade school. They wanted to challenge your thought process. In some classes such as Business Law and Ethics there were no wrong answers. You had to pick a view point, stick with it and defend it, by analyzing your notes and books and thinking critically. In any case fuck the ACT and stop feeling bad. No real world job is going to give you a timed test and make you do it during the course of your regular work (I get for IT/Programming there are tests like this to check for competency).

What I am trying to say is this, in the real world you will have numerous tools and resources at your disposal that you can use as a resource. Go to classes, kick ass and the rest will be fine.

Theres nothing to feel bad about when it comes down to it. You had an opportunity and you took it, now take full advantage of what you have.

But there are so many questions about how to study for these tests, how to motivate your student, and how to get through this process without yelling or tears.

You want to know how to help your kid get their best possible score without all the screaming and fighting to get them to study.

I got a 35 on the ACT in one shot and a 1530 on the SAT with two. I want to share with you the tips I used and I’ve helped my students use to increase their test scores and leverage them into acceptances and scholarships.

1. Great scores = lots of scholarship money

It can be really hard to motivate a junior or senior to study for and take these tests. Yet another thing for their ever expanding to-do list. This is especially hard when there is so little intrinsic value in learning to take these tests.

One great motivator can be the lure of substantial scholarship money that can make their dream college actually attainable from a financial perspective. If they want to go to that really pricey liberal arts school, make it clear that they need to get a lot of merit aid from them. The absolute best way to do that is with outstanding, near-perfect scores or becoming a National Merit Semi-Finalist or Finalist. A $250,000+ carrot is nothing to sneeze at.

2. School does not prepare students for these tests

As much as the test-takers want to tell you the tests are meant to measure what your kids are learning in school, they simply don’t. There’s no credit for showing your work. When was the last multiple choice math test your student took in class? Grade school? Schools simply do not test your child this way, so, if they are not studying HOW to take these tests, they will be at a severe disadvantage even if they know all the content.

Be sure your student practices with official exams in real test-taking environments. Shaan Patel of Prep Expert shared with me on the Dream College Summit that his students take at least six official exams under real conditions to prepare for the test. Shaan got a perfect score on the SAT, so he’s someone I definitely listen to when it comes to SAT prep.

3. The math is less advanced than you think

With sophomores frequently taking calculus in school, as a parent you might think the SAT and ACT test on advanced math. They don’t. There’s zero calculus and very little trig.

This can be a double-edged sword. Especially for students who are very advanced at math. These students will need to review their algebra and geometry. They’ll need to review basic probability and statistics. Don’t think just because your student is a math whiz that they can skip their math review. They may not have studied some of these topics for years.

4. It’s important to learn all the ‘tricks’

These tests do not test your student’s aptitude, college readiness, or “smarts.” They simply test how well they can take the particular test. It’s important to understand that for two reasons:

1. Doing poorly on these tests is not at all a reflection on how smart a student is. It just means they need to study how to take these tests better.

2. It means you need to help your student learn as many tips and tricks for solving these problems as fast and accurately as possible.

Some of my favorite tricks apply to the math section and include plugging in the answers and substituting numbers for variables. This aspect of the test is why it is so important to study specifically for these tests. These tricks can be gleaned from tutors, test prep books, or online or in-person classes. The important thing is that your students learn them, practice them, and are super comfortable using them come test day.

5. Help comes in many forms — and everyone needs some

As I hope I’ve hammered home by now, these tests require very specific studying. Personally, I did all my studying on my own with test prep books. If you’re student has the discipline to set their own study schedule (and actually follow through), this is a great option. Just be sure to get them only practice exams from the official makers of the tests.

If your student needs more help than self study, take a look at the offerings online and around you that get the best results, work for you and your student’s schedule, and fit your child’s personality. It’s important to look for programs, classes, or tutors that have track records of significant score improvements. That means a few hundred points on the ACT or three or more points on the ACT, depending on your student’s starting point. It’s easy to promise “an increase.” It’s much harder to guarantee a 400-point increase.

6. You ’ d be smart to focus on one test

I took both the ACT and SAT. I got a 35 on the ACT with one shot and minimal studying. The ACT was obviously my better test, but at the time the schools I was applying to didn’t all accept it. This is no longer the case, so, if the ACT is better for your student, focus on that one, unless they qualify for National Merit.

If your student is in contention for being a National Merit finalist, they’ll need to focus on the SAT. It can also be complementary to studying for the PSAT, the National Merit qualifying exam, since the PSAT and SAT are so similar now. If they end up qualifying for one of the national scholarships or a school scholarship, this work will more than pay for itself.

If you want even more test prep tips to help your student get into and pay for their dream colleges, get your FREE ticket to the online Dream College Summit, running August 28-31, 2017, and learn from 26 top experts in college admissions, test prep, and financial aid. As a thank you, you’ll receive my newly updated Ultimate Guide to the Common App with your ticket.

Jessica is a graduate of Harvard and MIT with over ten years of tutoring experience. As a senior in high school, she gained acceptance to Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Cornell, and Columbia. She is the founder of Impress the Ivies and host of the Dream College Summit. Her students have gotten into elite schools, like Harvard and Carnegie Mellon, and received over $180,000 in scholarships.

Sometimes in a place like school where hundreds of confused children are sent to figure out themselves and life in general, there are awkward situations. Sometimes, though, it is just plain chaos. School fights fall in the latter category. You will undoubtedly see tons of kids getting into fights and countless others asking how to win a school fight. Well, the only “victory” there is, is not getting hurt and making sure the other person doesn’t get injured as well.

5 Most Important Don’ts in a School Fight

Don’t Provoke

It is a bad idea. Seriously. Provoking your opponent only causes him to slip out of control and do things that are dangerous and may be even fatal. If it is a bully problem, you want to stay cool and teach him a lesson, not do or say something that might render him unpredictably dangerous.

Don’t Wimp Out

To know how to win a school fight, you need to know how to withstand one. You want to stand your ground at all times. Letting the bully have his way would lead him and others to think you are weak and you would just end up getting oppressed all the time. Not cool.

Don’t Make a Spectacle

You aren’t there to prove your physical dominance over anyone. That is just like a bully. Standing your ground and defending yourself will not only get you more respect from others but even the authorities will go easy on you if they know that you were making decisions with a calm mind.

Don’t Use Excessive Force

You may find yourself at a physical or psychological advantage during a fight. Use it to defend, not attack. Using undue amount of force would only result in injuries and more trouble hence. Not the smartest idea.

Don’t Fight!

Yes, you got it. Getting into a school fight is the last thing you should do. Try and avoid a fight at all costs but in the off case you do find yourself in a confrontation, don’t back down.

5 Most Important Dos in a School Fight

Do Try and Rationalize First

There is a fair chance that the fight could be avoided altogether. Try and talk your aggressor out of it. Convince him that this is a lose-lose. If he does not comply, oh well at least you can tell the authorities you tried to reason with him!

Do Get Your Opponent to Respect You

As strange as it may sound, this does prevent further unnecessary fights. Actions like not backing down or getting back up from a punch go a long way in this. Even something like looking your bully straight in the eyes is a good way to start off this process.

Do Defend Yourself at All Costs

How to win a school fight? Defend yourself. The priority here is you. You do not want to get hurt at all. So don’t hold back on protecting yourself out of some misplaced sense of punch-for-punch “honour”. If you can land a punch without taking one, do it!

Do Stay Calm Afterward

Throwing a tantrum or sending threats will only make you come across as unstable and mad. The authorities do not go easy on that sort of a thing. So instead of acting up after the fight, just stay cool and explain to them everything that happened with an open mind-set.

Do Ask for Help Later

If you feel that something really troublesome is going to happen, don’t hesitate to report this to your guardian or mentors. You need all the support you can get in matters like these. Having someone who understands your situation on your side is a big psychological help!

Learn the Techniques: 3 Great Submission Moves

Rear Naked Choke

This is a great submission technique. First off, start with the over-under grip. Ensure your bottom hand grabs your top wrist and stretch your grip over the neck and under the shoulder.
Next, grip his shoulder with your top hand with your fingers like a “claw”. This is called the tiger grip.

Now that you’ve got the grip, remove your bottom hand and lock with your top with the latter arm facing downwards, making for a very strong grip. While your opponent is busy trying to block your grip, go for the next step.

Re-grip his shoulder with your arm just as before and simultaneously block his wrist with your other arm. This will counter his attempts to throw off your hold.

Finish up with the palm-to-palm grip as in the third step and make sure your ‘top’ arm runs across his neck and not his face or chin. This tight hold will definitely make him submit.

If you cannot get your head around the above instruction, here is the legendary mixed martial artist Bas Rutten to explain how to apply this technique in real fight scenarios:


This is a takedown technique which is used by police officers to take down criminals, so it definitely counts in knowing how to win a school fight. Start off by shaking off the other guy’s grip on your shoulder or neck. Once you have broken his grip while parrying his gripping arm, pull your attacker towards you by dragging his arm.

Keeping your face and body across his back, proceed to place both arms around your opponent’s waist. In this grip, bring in the heel of your forward foot down on the Achilles tendon of his backward limb. With a sweeping motion, lean back and bring him down.

Here is Bas Rutten’s demonstration:

Heel Hook

Just like the armbar, the heel hook is also mostly a ground technique, but it aims at your opponent’s leg. If you are in your opponent’s grip, throw your elbows into his thighs to get his legs uncrossed. Step over your opponent’s left (right) heel with your knee and hook your right (left) arm around it. Once you have done that, push your opponent’s hip with your leg and twist his heel with both of your arms to complete the lock.

How your words can change your child's behavior

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC.

Sam Edwards / Caiaimage / Getty Images

Praise is a simple but effective discipline strategy that increases good behavior.   Pointing out when your child is following the rules or telling them that you appreciate their compliance will motivate them to keep up the good work.

Positive vs. Negative Attention

Imagine standing in a room with three children. Two of the children are playing quietly with toys. One child is running around wildly, jumping on furniture and screeching. Which child would be most likely to get your attention? If you're like most parents, you might give the misbehaving child more attention.

If, however, you praised the children who were behaving, you could change the entire situation. Saying, “Wow, I love the way you are sitting there playing quietly,” may motivate the misbehaving child to follow suit.

But it’s easy to let good behaviors often go unnoticed. And when kids aren’t getting attention, they’ll often do whatever it takes to get noticed—and sometimes, that means misbehaving. When you give your child positive attention for good behavior, they’ll be less likely to act out.  

Benefits of Praise

Praise can encourage a variety of good behaviors. Catch your child being good and point it out. Positive reinforcement will encourage it to continue.

Here are a few specific behaviors that can be especially responsive to praise:

  • Prosocial behavior: Praise your child for sharing, taking turns, using kind words, and getting along well with others.  
  • Compliance: Praise your child for following the rules and listening to your instructions. Remember to pay attention when your child is playing quietly or entertaining themself.
  • Effort: When your child is learning a new skill, praise can encourage them to keep trying. For example, if you praise your child for their willingness to try hard or their ability to be patient as they learn, you'll increase their motivation to keep trying.

Make Praise Effective

Praise and positive attention are healthy when given appropriately. Here are some ways to make your praise particularly effective in encouraging good behavior:

Offer Immediate and Frequent Feedback

Offer frequent praise if your child is playing quietly for an extended period of time or if they're working hard on a project for a whole afternoon.

Make Praise Specific

Instead of saying “Good job,” say, “Great job putting your plate in the sink right when I asked you to.” This makes it clear that you are praising their immediate compliance.

Frame Your Praise Positively

Instead of saying, “Nice job not whining,” say, “I’m proud of you for staying calm when I said that you couldn’t go outside.” Point out the behaviors you want to see more of, not the behaviors you hope to diminish. Never mix praise with criticism, or it will lose effectiveness.

Praise Effort, Not the Outcome

Praise can build healthy self-esteem when you use it to point out your child's effort.   Rather than praise your child for getting a 100, praise their willingness to study for the test.

Offer Genuine Praise

Rather than say, "You're the smartest kid ever," or, "You're the best soccer player in the whole school," offer realistic praise. Say things like, "You're a good runner," or "You do a great job of getting your homework done."

Avoid Labels

Labels, even when they're positive, aren't a good idea. Referring to your child as "your little genius," or "a soccer star," may cause your child to think that's all they are known for. Focus your praise on their behavior, not their traits.

Create a Discipline Plan

You can prevent a lot of misbehavior by catching your child being good. But, when your child breaks the rules, it's important to provide negative consequences that will deter them from misbehaving in the future.  

When your child is struggling with a specific behavioral issue, create a clear plan for how you can use praise to encourage good behavior. For example, if your child hits their sibling when they’re angry, invest your energy into praising them for using kind words, gentle touches, and problem-solving skills.

A Word From Verywell

Generally, kids want to please and do well—and get attention. When you give them feedback for the behavior you want to see more of, you tend to get it. The key is consistency. It can take a few weeks of regular recognition for the new behavior to take hold and replace (or reduce) your child's negative attention-seeking habits.

But if given time, compassion, and consistency, praise is likely to encourage new patterns of positive behavior.

Do you have siblings? Have you ever felt like the firstborn child always seems to outdo you?

He gets better grades, she’s the star athlete, he even got the lead in the school play.

Firstborn children are literally smarter, better, faster and stronger than you.

Okay, maybe they’re just more intelligent, but we all know that nerds win in the end. Just look at Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, Elizabeth Holmes or Albert Einstein (they’re all firstborns too).

You hate to admit it, but your stupid (or rather, really intelligent) older sibling is definitely more successful than you.

Not to mention, every single time there’s a large family gathering, everyone dotes on your oldest sibling and praises his or her accomplishments. All the while, you’re left sitting in the corner, wearing his or her hand-me-down clothing and wondering where it all went wrong.

Well, you finally have someone to blame for your inadequacy: Your parents. Thanks for nothing Mom and Dad!

Firstborn Children Are More Intelligent. And It’s Because Of Their Parents

According to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), firstborn children do better than their younger siblings in school.

Correspondingly, numerous studies have shown that firstborns are generally more intelligent and score higher on IQ tests. History has also gone to show that firstborns are more likely to become president. Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were all firstborns.

Not to mention, firstborns are also less likely to do drugs and get pregnant as teenagers. These aren’t always impediments to success, however, so this doesn’t necessarily give a full explanation as to why firstborns are such high achievers.

There is a number of theories as to why the first child typically exhibits higher cognitive abilities and performs better in school. For example, as Derek Thompson of the Atlantic notes, some might argue that it’s genetic, in the sense that later kids are receiving diminished "genetic endowment."

Some also speculate that since older children are born first, they receive greater attention and care than younger kids. In turn, this fosters stronger development and a healthier brain.

Likewise, others theorize that some parents become so fed up with kids that they develop what is called "selection-bias." In other words, if you were the last one to pop out, your parents are so sick of the stress of having kids that they have an innate disdain for you.

From this standpoint, the parents favor their older children more because they were born before they were completely exhausted with the prospect of raising kids.

One of the most interesting theories argues that the oldest children do better in school because they grow smarter by teaching their young siblings. If you can teach, then you certainly understand and value the power of knowledge.

There is also what is often referred to as the "divorce theory." Simply put, divorce is quite common in today’s society, but it’s more likely to happen after the first child is born. Thus, the oldest child gets the benefit of not having their upbringing disrupted by a family crisis.

Parental Discipline Is Key To A Child’s Academic Success

The recent NBER study, mentioned above, takes a different stance on this issue from the other theories. According to V. Joseph Hotz, one of the economists who completed the research for the study:

In other words, it all depends on the way in which parents discipline their children. When a child does poorly in school and there are no parental consequences, or disciplinary actions, then they won’t be motivated to do better.

For example, say a child repeatedly gets Ds on his report card but his parents don’t place any restrictions on his activities. Regardless of academic performance, he is allowed to watch as much TV as he wants and his parents don’t even express disappointment in his grades. This obviously won’t inspire a child to work harder in the future.

The theory explains that parents are more likely to discipline the first child more, and become a bit more lax as they have more kids. This is why some have referred to this idea as the "lazy-parent theory."

No wonder the first child always complains that younger siblings have it easier.

This makes a lot of sense. All children want their parents approval. If this approval is predicated upon how well they do in school, then it goes without saying that they will work hard in scholastic pursuits. Furthermore, no child wants to have TV privileges taken away.

As with anything, there are exceptions to every rule. The firstborn child in every family doesn’t always end up being the smartest or most successful. Yet, statistically, the majority of them do.

With that said, it’s important to remember that children are too dynamic to be explained or codified by any single theory. Every family is different, and there is no single path toward success.

At the same time, perhaps parents can take something away from this. If you want all of your offspring to exhibit high levels of academic achievement, maintain consistent standards of discipline.

Attention Middle Children And Babies of the Family: All Is Not Lost!

It’s dangerous to make generalizations about anything in this world. But, I hate to break it to all of the middle and youngest children out there, your oldest siblings have numbers on their side when it comes to smarts and success.

With that said, that doesn’t mean you aren’t also destined for greatness.

Middle children have a number of fantastic qualities. According to studies, middle children are commonly quite diplomatic, outgoing, natural mediators, competitive, flexible, amiable and decidedly social.

In other words, if you’re a middle child, you’re great at breaking up fights between the oldest and youngest siblings. This makes you great with people and a natural communicator. Not surprisingly, John F. Kennedy was a middle child, and so are Barbara Walters and David Letterman, among others.

As for the babies of the family out there, must you always be the center of attention?

Studies show that the youngest siblings are natural attention seekers, most likely because they were the last to appear and are desperate to be seen. Yet, this indefatigable desire to be noticed also fosters some pretty wonderful qualities.

The youngest children are often persistent, charming and affectionate. Unsurprisingly, Jim Carrey, Whoopi Goldberg and Eddie Murphy are all the youngest children in their families.

Take pride in the fact that no matter where you land in the family tree, you are unique. No one’s path in this world is completely predetermined, we make our own luck.