The Power of Character: How Focusing on Traits Rather Than Achievements Can Shape Children’s Success

Toxic-parenting researcher Jennifer Breheny Wallace reveals the key to fostering confidence and success in children lies in the way we praise them.

In a society that often equates success with external achievements, toxic-parenting researcher Jennifer Breheny Wallace offers a fresh perspective on raising confident and successful children. Wallace argues that rather than solely focusing on their accomplishments, parents should emphasize the character traits that contribute to their success. Her research, detailed in her book “Never Enough: When Achievement Pressure Becomes Toxic — and What We Can Do About It,” sheds light on the importance of recognizing and nurturing these traits. By doing so, parents can help their children develop emotionally healthy ways of growing and thriving.

The Power of Acknowledging Strengths

Wallace’s research, which involved interviews with child psychologists and a survey of 6,500 parents across the U.S., highlights the significance of acknowledging and nurturing children’s strengths. By recognizing their positive attributes, such as honesty and creativity, parents can foster emotional growth and maturity. According to Wallace, it is through being known and valued for who they are, rather than solely being praised for their achievements, that children truly thrive.

Shifting the Focus from External Achievements

In a society that often places immense pressure on children to excel academically and achieve external success, Wallace’s approach challenges the prevailing narrative. She argues that by shifting the focus from external achievements to intrinsic qualities, parents can help their children develop a strong sense of self-worth and resilience. By recognizing and valuing traits like kindness, empathy, and perseverance, parents can instill in their children a sense of purpose and fulfillment that goes beyond external validation.

The Importance of Feeling Valued

Wallace emphasizes the significance of making others feel valued by acknowledging their strengths. By doing so, parents create an environment where children feel seen and understood. This sense of validation fosters a positive self-image and contributes to the development of healthy self-esteem. When children feel valued for their character traits, they are more likely to embrace their unique qualities and pursue their passions with confidence.

Nurturing Emotional Intelligence

Wallace’s research aligns with the growing recognition of the importance of emotional intelligence in children’s development. By focusing on character traits, parents can help their children develop emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, empathy, and effective communication skills. These qualities not only contribute to personal well-being but also enable children to navigate relationships and challenges with resilience and adaptability.

The Role of Parental Modeling

Wallace’s research underscores the crucial role parents play in shaping their children’s perception of success and self-worth. By modeling the recognition and appreciation of character traits in their own lives and interactions, parents can inspire their children to do the same. When children witness their parents valuing kindness, integrity, and other positive attributes, they internalize these values and are more likely to cultivate them within themselves.


In a society that often prioritizes external achievements, toxic-parenting researcher Jennifer Breheny Wallace offers a powerful alternative. By shifting the focus from accomplishments to character traits, parents can foster confidence, resilience, and emotional well-being in their children. Wallace’s research reminds us of the importance of recognizing and valuing the inherent worth of individuals, beyond their external achievements. As parents, we have the opportunity to shape our children’s perception of success and help them embrace their unique qualities. By doing so, we set them on a path towards a fulfilling and successful life, grounded in authenticity and self-worth.






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