Thursday, August 16, 2012

How to Teach Resilience in a Wild and Precious Life

Dinosaur School (teacher in orange)

A recent op-ed from the New York Times, "Raising Successful Children" talks about a study in which children that were praised for doing a simple puzzle and told how smart they were were more reluctant than unpraised children to try additional harder puzzles, presumably for fear of failing, and losing their status as "smart".  Failing is an important, let's say very important, skill in life.

I don't like that word "successful." It makes me cringe.  What I most want for my daughter is happiness.  I believe resilience is a key ingredient in happiness.

Miss B came up with whole dinosaur school idea herself and
class has been in session every morning this week.  I am a student too : )

Yet while there may be danger in over flattering, in the past I've noticed some children around me whose parents didn't praise them, seemed to doubt that their parents saw their value as a person. These children did not seem resilient, or more willing to try the hard puzzles in life, and they don't seem happier now.  How do you teach the importance of trying?  How do you teach that it's ok to fail?  I suppose by encouraging your children to try, and even though it pains us, to let them fail.  But also, importantly, to let your child see you trying and sometimes failing at a daunting puzzle or challenge.  To live bravely, to try new things, to put yourself out there for the things you love and be able to show and talk about the failures as well as the successes.

The last line in the article is just amazing.
"One of the most important things we do for our children is to present them with a version of adult life that is appealing and worth striving for."

Are you doing that?  
I'm trying, and I bet you are too.

"Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?"

- Mary Oliver, The Summer


  1. wonderful thoughts ... the bit about the jigsaw puzzles really hit home to me ... I read somewhere when Abby was little that praise is important, especially pertinent praise, so I was very diligent at finding opportunities to praise something particular she did well. Now, as a teenager, she IS reluctant to try harder or new things in case she fails ... it is a constant battle we have with her - and she has with herself! Parenting is such hard work! But I agree with you about the last bit - that is beautiful and so true. Something that I shall think of each day. And Ms. Oliver - trust Ms. Oliver to have something beautiful to say about it!

  2. Lily, thank you for the input, especially from the perspective of the parent of a (now) teenager! Parenting is hard work! From what I see on your blog I have no doubt that you challenge yourself every day, and don't shy away a bit from that which is difficult (that lovely sweater for Abby comes to mind! flipping amazing, and certainly not easy I suspect). I do like reading differing views on parenting just to get me thinking. Really, though at the end of the day, we all love our kids (to bits and pieces) and just want them to be happy. And to that end we do our best, and what feels right for us and our particular families. This reminds me of an amazing documentary, "Babies" about how children are raised in different cultures - it was pretty mind blowing. Very different approaches and yet you felt like you knew all those kids were going to grow up alright. All of them had parents who cared for them and about their well being. As a parent I found it pretty reassuring. Would be interesting to see a follow-up teen rearing version.