What exactly does it take for a child to succeed in life? Is it good grades? High test scores? Tenacity?
According to Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character and Whatever it Takes, adults focus on high test scores, pre-admission to preschool and SAT scores as child-success indicators.
Based on research, however, Tough says we focus too much on these areas. He believes that the most important qualities have more to do with character. These skills include perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control.
Tough and his wife became parents while he was writing his book. Surprisingly, the research actually made him a more relaxed parent. When his son was born, Tough was very much caught up in the idea of childhood as a race – the faster a child develops skills and the better he does on tests, the better he’ll do in life.
These days, the author is much less concerned about his son’s reading and counting ability. While he certainly believes those things are important, he’s more concerned about his character. He wants his son to be able to recover from disappointments, calm himself down, keep working at a puzzle even when it’s frustrating and be good at sharing. He also wants his son to feel loved and confident, and have a full sense of belonging. Most importantly, Tough wants his son to be able to handle failure.
It’s hard for us parents to let our children fail. Why is that? Because everything in us wants to shield them from trouble. But Tough and others are now discovering that we may actually harm our children when we try to protect them. By not allowing them to learn to manage adversity or to cope with failure, we produce kids who have real problems when they grow up. Overcoming adversity produces character. And character, even more than IQ, leads to real and lasting success.
According to Tough, scientists realize that early adversity in a child’s life affects the conditions of their lives. It can also alter the physical development of their brains. This knowledge is being used nationwide to help children overcome constraints.
Regardless of socioeconomic status, Tough contends that children with the proper support in the most painful circumstances can still achieve amazing things. But many children do not grow up with that right support. For example, there may be two parents in the home who are so bent on their child’s success that they never let him experience failure. Or at the completely opposite end of the spectrum, there’s no support to help the child get back up when he fails.