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The Good Struggle

Parenting tips

As parents, we all want the very best for our children. We work hard to provide them with a future that’s better than our past. No parent wants to see their child experience pain or discomfort. So with the best of intentions, we frequently try to protect our children from the bumps and bruises that inevitably arise in life. Though this desire to shield our children is understandable, those bumps and bruises (and the pain they can cause) are actually positive contributors to each child’s eventual success.

We are raising children in the age of instant gratification. Television programs provide quick solutions to all problems in a half-hour or hour-long time period. Video games deliver rapid responses and our communication tools provide nearly instantaneous, worldwide connectivity. So without meaning to, we are teaching our children that life is easy and painless. In reality, there is no “easy button.” Life is full of complexity and there are many detours and curves.

We believe that providing children with appropriately painful challenges and opportunities is critical to healthy development. Here are some of our thoughts on ways to build resilience and resolve in children.

Start Young

The gift of perseverance begins during infancy. Infants must have endless opportunities to work and struggle. Tummy time, while often frustrating for babies, is essential for strong cognitive and physical development. As infants reach for toys, lift their heads and learn to turn over, they are developing essential skills needed for proper growth and development and learning the rewards of hard work.

Don’t Let Them Win (Too Frequently)

Children need to learn that playing well does not always result in winning. In fact, losing can teach a great, great deal. Children must experience both winning and losing to become equipped with the attitudes that will lead to successful adulthood. As such, it is counterproductive to let your child win every time you play games. Instead, moderate your game-play so that the child has a chance to participate with winning being an attainable possibility. Then, let the chips fall where they may. This way, the day your child beats you at a favorite game will have much-enhanced meaning and impact on his long-term growth.

Promote Perseverance

Persistence, determination and dedication are key to developing strong problem solving and critical thinking skills. This is an area in which video games can be valuable learning labs. Children will go back time and time again to get a better result or to reach the next level. The trick lies in getting them to understand that the same principles of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” applies to life. Don’t be afraid to call their attention to this or even to participate in some of their games. Try saying, “You’ve had so much more practice than I have. I need to work hard to get to be as good as you are because you worked hard to get to be that good!”

Display an “I Can” Attitude

Replace whining and complaining with a joyful spirit. As they grow, children will face roadblocks. Having a positive attitude yourself and being enthusiastic about facing challenges will encourage children to work through their hard times.

Discuss and Model Hard Work

Children must learn to become willing to go the extra mile when faced with difficult situations. They will if they see and hear you using hard work as a method of tackling the daily challenges we all face. Help them learn that failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Help them understand that anything worth having is worth working for by modeling and discussing that routinely.

Promote Recess

School recess can be challenging for children. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important. Recess is a laboratory for social and emotional growth. It is a very valuable situation in which to teach that it is OK to walk away and come back later. Often, taking a break from a difficult or confusing task provides time to think and a clear picture of what needs to be accomplished.

Build Confidence

You must believe in yourself if you expect others to believe in you. Children need continual opportunities to build confidence and the best way to do that is to put them in situations where they can experience success and adversity.

To best prepare children for life, we must be willing to let them work hard, make mistakes and struggle. Through these moments of challenge, children develop patterns and methods of problem-solving that will serve them well into adulthood. Since life will surely throw many challenges their way, children who can call upon an array of strategies to overcome difficulties will ultimately be those most likely to find success.

Like a butterfly desperately struggling to free itself from within its chrysalis, if the butterfly receives unnatural help and doesn’t endure this difficult process on its own, it won’t be prepared for survival in its environment. As we guide our children through the various stages of development, it is imperative we provide opportunities for them to learn the importance of persistence, determination, diligence and dedication. It is only through skinned knees, difficult times and failures that they will truly have joy in life’s successes.

Kathy Carley is the lower division director and Mark Heller is the head of school at Academy at the Lakes, a PK3–12th grade independent school that serves students from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. For more information, visit academyatthelakes.org.

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