When our children were toddlers, I developed the ability to know just when one of their precarious steps would lead to a non-injuring fall to the ground. I trained myself to look away as the child fell, knowing that his first glance after falling would be towards me, to judge my reaction. Any look of concern on my face would lead to his immediately bursting into tears. I observed that if the toddler believed I did not witness the fall, he was more likely not to cry at all, but to slowly regroup, and head on his way, knee scrape and all, a bit older, and a bit wiser in the ways of walking. This strategic looking away became harder to do as the children got older. Did I “not see” that he had forgotten to bring his homework to school, thus risking a poor grade in the class? Did lunch money left on the kitchen counter get run to school in time for lunch period? The consequences of their mistakes get so much more significant than a scraped knee as they get older, and even the most determined non-intervening parent has trouble letting the chips fall where they may.
Paul Tough ‘s new book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character” posits the “character hypothesis,” the notion that whatever cognitive skills a child develops are less significant to her long-term success than non-cognitive skills like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Today’s “rich kids” in America are sheltered from adversity, failure, and consequences of every sort. “For rich kids, a safety net is drawn so tight, it’s a harness.”
Parents can change this fate for their own children right in their own homes. Home work left behind is a grade lowered; lunch money forgotten is a skipped meal; failure to plan is failure to go. In the long run, we are doing our children a favor. This is not to say that we do not continue in a high-support role. They need us to do just that. But, they also need to take ownership of their own homework, their own plans, and their own dreams. That part is not our job.
Sarah C. Reese
Executive Director, Informed Educational Solutions