Why Kids Must Fail — And How They Can Succeed
Resilience is a “hot” topic (see above, for one recent book). It has been for a while in education circles. Unlike many other “hot” topics, I think it’s a useful framework for understanding why some kids succeed and some kids don’t, and I’ve been using it a lot in my dissertation. I’m also trying to use the idea of resilience to help me as a better parent.
The theory is that without setbacks or challenges, kids don’t learn coping strategies. They don’t learn enough about self-control and perseverance. According to resilience theory, you need — by definition — to have faced adversity in order to be considered resilient. As Paul Tough points out eloquently in his recent, popular book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, lots of kids today have too much adversity in their lives and become overwhelmed by the stress and traumas associated mainly with poverty. Other kids — typically the children of middle class and upper middle class parents — have too little adversity. As a private school teacher and tutor, I certainly saw this: many young kids who have been “overparented” so much that simple setbacks — name-calling by a classmate, a difficult essay, a conflict with a teacher — left them flailing.
Kids need four basic things (The Four As, if you will) to be able to cope with life’s challenges and to succeed in an increasingly complex world. You can turn to books by Ned Hallowell or Kenneth Ginsburg, if you’re interested in more detail.
1. Adversity: Children need to confront challenges. Some kids face too many, some kids face too few.
2. Allies: Kids need support. Kids need connections with adults at home, school, and in the community who care about them. If a child is facing a lot of risk factors (poverty, poor schools, health issues, etc.), he will usually need extra support.
3. Attitude: Kids need to develop internal feelings and beliefs — a mindset — about their own competence and about the value of effort and persistence.
4. Authentic feedback: Carol Dweck has written about this wonderfully. Children need accurate, specific messages about their performance in many domains.
On this blog, I will be examining research using this framework, with the understanding that families, schools, and communities all have an important role to play in raising resilient kids who can thrive in the face of many challenges.