Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Teach Your Children Well; Teach Them to Persevere

Atticus created several challenging lessons for his children. He wanted them to restrain their rash, emotional impulses in favor of civility and reason. Above all, he wanted them to learn empathy and the courage of their convictions. Every child needs to master these lessons in order to grow and become a worthy citizen, but I offer a few more to prepare your child for what lies ahead, and I think Atticus would approve.


The merits of public education and the costs of a college education are often in the news lately, weighing heavily on the minds of parents. Some doubt the wisdom of sending their child to public school. Others wonder if the current trend toward virtual schools and home schooling may be right for them. Above all, they worry about helping their child pay the high cost of an education after high school. With this post, I offer some tips for preparing your child to take the path that is right for him or her, whatever that path may be.


First and most important is to consider what employers and college admissions officers have in common when considering candidates, and that is the ability to persevere. Can your child power through mild setbacks such as a head cold or forgetting about a deadline or even an unkind gesture from a peer? Will your child reassess and plan, or will your child fall apart? You can train a child to become a malingerer, using minor aches and pains to avoid responsibilities and consequences as easily as you can train a child to be resilient and resourceful.


Help children learn to persevere by teaching them to think creatively. For example, if they become frustrated while painting or building with blocks because they cannot accomplish what they had in mind, encourage them to re-imagine the design instead of crumpling the paper or knocking down the blocks. Doing so will help them transfer that skill to other complex processes, including a puzzling algebra concept that seems to make no sense whatsoever. Coach your child to re-imagine, rethink his options. He can search for algebra help online, call a classmate, or ask the teacher for help before school the next day.


New material can be tough to master, mistakes happen, and visions sometimes do not translate into the real world well. Successful people do not walk away. They reflect and ask, “What if?” Teach your children to succeed by giving them staying power.


Later in high school, when your children fall behind and a deadline looms as large as a storm cloud overhead, don’t rescue them and solve the problem for them. In life, there is no way out but through, and children must learn to push through even if it means they will lose a night’s sleep or must negotiate an extension all by themselves or accept the consequences of their procrastination by accepting a very low score. They will learn valuable lessons about meeting expectations and enjoying their benefits.


Help your children think through consequences, however. They do not have your experience, and they need your input as they develop into independent, responsible adults. How many young girls have forsaken their passion for analysis and research because being a girl sometimes seems the wrong gender for science, math, and engineering? How many have forsaken the field of play because, as my daughter’s off-and-on best friend once said, athletic girls are not feminine and they intimidate boys? Let your daughters know that they cannot go wrong if they pursue what challenges and interests them. They need to learn to be comfortable in their roles as a female, but more important, they need to learn to enjoy all aspects of their promise as a human being. So do boys.


When your sons grow weary of the coach who turns a blind eye to their heart in the game and instead turns a seeing eye to their imperfections, help your sons overcome. Never let them quit mid-season or mid-year. If they signed on to play for the team or school, they must see it through and delay their decision until their obligation is at an end. Then they must determine if they love the game enough to play again or find another game to enjoy. Beware, however, not to nurture a serial quitter, the one who tries something one year and something else the year after and the year after that. Employers and college admissions officers look for candidates who know how to see something through to the end.


Parents must also guide their children into the most challenging opportunities available through their schools. If Advanced Placement (AP) or the International Baccalaureate (IB) curricula are available, your children should enroll in as many as possible. These courses are rigorous, and rigor teaches perseverance. It also teaches your children to compete at the highest levels. They will be better prepared for college, and decades of data exist to prove this claim.


Lest you think AP or IB does not apply to your child because he does not plan to enroll in college immediately after high school, think again. Children who plan to join their parents in a family business and bypass college will have acquired higher order skills in reading, writing, computing, thinking, and civics. Those who intend to serve their country in a branch of the military will have the same higher order skills plus solid experience in persevering. And those who enter college may do so with several earned college credits. Data also show they will be more likely to complete the most competitive degrees, including medicine and engineering.


Employers, military recruiters, and college admissions officers look for those who have high aspirations and are unafraid of a challenge. Help your children develop both by teaching them to persevere, think creatively, accept responsibility, and welcome challenge. If they learn these lessons from you, they can acquire a fine education wherever they happen to be.