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 have focused on high test scores, pre-admission to preschool and SAT scores as indicators as to whether a child will be successful.
However, based on research, Tough would argue that too much focus has been placed on these areas and that the most important qualities have more to do with character: skills such as perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control.
In the midst of writing the book, Tough and his wife became parents. The research for this book had a surprising effect: It made him more relaxed as a parent. When his son was born, he says he 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.
The author now reports he is less concerned about his son’s reading and counting ability. While he certainly believes those things are important, he is more concerned about his character. The ability to get over disappointments, to calm himself down, to keep working at a puzzle even when it’s frustrating, to be good at sharing, to feel loved and confident and full of a sense of belonging and most importantly, to be able to deal with failure.
Tough acknowledges that it is a difficult thing for parents to let their child fail because it’s in a parent’s DNA to shield their children from trouble. But Tough and others are now discovering that, in trying to protect our children, we may actually be harming them. By not giving them the chance to learn to manage adversity or to cope with failure, we produce kids who have real problems when they grow up. Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.
According to Tough, scientists have come to understand that early adversity in a child’s life not only affects the conditions of their lives, it can also alter the physical development of their brains. This knowledge is being used across the country to help children overcome constraints.
Tough contends that, no matter where children fall on the socio-economic spectrum, children who grow up with the proper support in the most painful circumstances can go on to achieve amazing things. But many children do not grow up with that right support. There may be two parents in the home, but the parents are so bent on their child’s success that they never let him experience failure; or at the completely opposite end of the spectrum, a child has no support to help him get back up when he fails.
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