One of the harder things to do as a parent is to allow your child to struggle, and potentially fail. Especially when our children are very young, we want to scoop them up and protect them from, not just danger, but the sort of challenges that may create frustration and/or fear. I remember one such incident with my son where he (at about age 3) had climbed up on a structure and soon realized he was unable to get down without my assistance. He asked for help, and I, instead of picking him up and safely delivering him to the ground, stood close by and gently encouraged him to find his way down. “You got yourself up there, you could get yourself down,” I assured him. He fussed a bit, asked for help again, and then slowly began making his way down. I had to suppress every parental desire I have to just let him shakily get himself back down to the ground. It would have taken half the time, and would have spared us both the anxiety spike. But after a few missteps, he was back safely on the ground and plenty pleased with himself. We both learned something that day.
A new book on the subject of building this sort of character in children is making the rounds and raising some interesting questions. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by author Paul Tough (appropriate enough name) tackles the issue of how young people build character and persevere through the many character-building experiences that make up childhood and adolescence. Tough sites scientific data (psychological experiments on lab rats) as well as anecdotal information to substantiate his point that parents and caregivers need to provide the appropriate psychological foundation, which fosters strength and confidence. Tough admits that there sometimes can be a fine line between appropriate intervention/encouragement and being overbearing, but the key is providing as much encouragement and affection as possible (especially in the early years) and that parents should try to help their kids manage stress levels at a very early age.
One very interesting point Tough made, in a recent interview with NPR to promote the book, was, despite a parent’s best intentions, our schools are falling far short of being places that build character with their tireless focus on only cognitive skills. “I think schools just aren’t set up right now to try to develop things like grit, and perseverance and curiosity,” Tough states. “… Especially in a world where we are more and more focused on standardized tests that measure a pretty narrow range of cognitive skills, teachers are less incentivized to think about how to develop those skills in kids.”
What are your thoughts on how character factors into your child’s development? Is it something you think about? Are our schools not contributing enough to this development? Is there a happy medium between over and under-parenting?
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