Two recent national editorials argued different views about the best way to help our kids to be happy and successful. One advocated telling "B" students to "go for the A" arguing that we should push children to always strive to improve. The other saw that message as damaging, essentially telling kids that they will never be good enough. Which approach is correct? Well, it depends.
First, it depends upon your role with that child. A kid's coach and teacher can and should supportively always set the bar higher: "Susan, that 'B' in math was pretty good. Now, imagine what your grade could be had you done every homework assignment every day. Let’s try that this month and see what happens, OK?" Challenge is an appropriate and healthy type of stress to place upon a kid, teaching that we can always do better, and that a good life is a game of always growing. Contrary to the myth, stress in the proper dose and tone is strengthening for a child, helping them to develop resilience, the most important factor in life happiness and achievement. Too much and too little stress are both unhealthy. We are at our best when moderately stressed.
But parents, given their powerful relationship, should whenever possible leave the achievement bar-raising to the coach and teacher, instead focusing more on building other keys to resilience. One is identity: "Who am I? What are my values and beliefs?" A second is purpose: "Why am I here, and what is this all about?" When those ingredients mature and swirl in a child they create passion, an achievement energy that blows through the roadblocks of laziness and craziness. You could call those things the heart of the child.
Once you lob that identity/purpose-shaping question into his brain, you are at the height of your power. The more you argue your point, the less he’ll think about your question. Do offer help for kids who are struggling ("Need a tutor? How about some incentives for trying harder?") but be very cautious about demanding endless striving for perfection.
For in case you haven't noticed, each child is a different book, requiring unique parenting skills and strategies. They pay you the big money to figure all that out and tailor your parenting to the individual needs of each of your children. Some can tolerate more challenge and direction than others, and that individual tolerance will grow as they grow. Overlook those needs and you can unwittingly win the battle for her grades and lose the war of access to her heart. Bad bargain. A mediocre high school student who feels loved and supported can go to community college, learn to academically strive there and do just fine in the world. And she’ll be more inclined to do so if she feels that the love of her parents was for her heart, not her grades.Remember your primary parental mission, one very different from the teacher/coach. It is not to raise an Ivy League student. It is to raise the parents of your grandchildren. What will you hope your grandchildrens' parents will have learned from you? Yelling, judgment, rejection and pain? Or would you wish your legacy to be tolerance, acceptance, and support especially in the face of failure, those things that make up the magic of parental love. Think long and hard about what you wish to pass down. This is as close as we get to touching the face of infinity.
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Doctor Mike Bradley