Life is hard for everyone. There’s no escaping setbacks, failure, or disappointment. Some people get dealt a more difficult hand, but everyone has bad things happen to them.
How much more for people who want to do something great with their lives.
A lot has been written over the past decade about helicopter parents. Now, lawnmower parents are all the craze- the parents who “go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure.” But we’re trying to prepare kids for more than a comfortable life. We want more for them than happiness or fulfillment, even. We want them to be equipped to build a meaningful life. And a meaningful life will be a difficult road.
Growing up, I struggled with significant developmental and speech delays. I went to occupational and speech therapy for years and I remember how embarrassed I felt when I got pulled out of class each week. Physically, I had challenges, too- I broke nine bones over the years. The worst blow was breaking my knee the night before my Little League baseball season started. I had just made the team and worked hard for a year to get a starting position at 3rd base. It crushed me.
Those experiences became a part of my story, especially because I would listen to my mom tell people about my experiences. I can remember her talking to friends on the phone about how courageous and strong I was. I would listen as she made comments about how impressed she was with the way I could handle hard things. That feedback built confidence in me that I could handle the next hard thing.
Years later, I reached a crossroads to go down the path of comfort in a career in accounting, or take the riskier path of working with students for a non-profit. I chose the narrow road. I’ve watched many friends over the years choose the comfortable path because they felt anxious about the hardships and challenges. I’ve had colleagues pull the cord and go into a more stable and comfortable industry. I’ve had partners in this entrepreneurial journey who would get overwhelmed by the trials of the lifestyle. But every time I hit a roadblock, I take a step back and recall all the hard things I’ve been through in my life, personally and professionally. I know I can face this challenge because I’ve faced so many before. In fact, this new challenge will build even greater strength and determination in me, because I know I will get through it.
Carol Dweck has helped popularize the concept of a growth mindset compared to a fixed one (if you don’t want to read the entire book, watch her TED talk from 2014). We can help kids cultivate their response to challenges, whether those challenges are about learning a challenging math concept or a swim stroke or making new friends. Kids create frames to experience and see life through from the adults in their lives, and how we respond to the challenges they face influences the interpretations they make. As we consider our own mindset towards challenges and cultivate an attitude of acceptance, gratitude, and reflection, we can both model resilience and guide students to develop a similar one.
Kids need multiple opportunities to “feel, fail, and fall” in their lives, as parenting expert author Shefali Tsabury puts it. That’s how they learn about life and how the world works, about who they are, and about how to navigate through life effectively. The more opportunities kids have to face setbacks, failure, and disappointments with caring, non-anxious adults close to them, the more they will have the muscle mass and muscle memory to grow. We can carve out multiple opportunities throughout the school day to guide students to reflect about the challenges they’re facing, to think about how they’re responding to those challenges, and reflect on alternative options that would be more productive for building the foundations for a flourishing life.
I’m so grateful I‘ve had an adult in my life helping me interpret and reflect the truth to me during my challenges over the years. My mom has helped me not only know that ‘this too shall pass’ but also to know that I will become stronger if I face it.
For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).