Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What a Child Needs

Protection, Relationship, Discipline, and Failure
I am not sure if we have a good understanding of what a child needs.

Or, if we really know and it's just hard to deliver.

I think we know. I think it is hard to deliver.

In his excellent 2012 book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough does a good job summarizing what a child needs by applying research results to his son:

"First, as much as possible, you protect him from serious trauma and chronic stress; then, even more important, you provide him with a secure, nurturing relationship with at least one parent, and ideally two. That's not the whole secret to success, but it is a big, big part of it."

Let's stop there. I understand this, but how do I do it?

What creates trauma and chronic stress in homes? Not war, right now. Family dysfunction? Mom and dad at odds? Constant pressure to perform? Chronic stress is not only a killer of physical health, but thwarts a child's success. Some things we can't control, like health loss. But what can we control to prevent chronic stress? Certainly our own emotions, with God's help. What else?

And, even more, a secure, nurturing relationship with a parent, ideally two. Are we too distracted to make sure each child has a secure relationship? Are we too unsettled ourselves to provide a secure relationship? Can we give up our own interests enough to take the time to build a real relationship with each child? It costs. It is worth it. And, it is a pleasure, which only gets better over years.

Tough goes on with the third and fourth:

"He also needed discipline, rules, limits; someone to say no." It is hard work to consistently discipline. Our job isn't to make our children happy or be their friend, but to make them great people. Loving, consistent discipline now makes the future easier and allows for positive, joyful relationships as time goes by.

Last: "And what he needed more than anything was some child-size adversity, a chance to fall down and get back up on his own, without help."

A braveheart!

For some reason, this might be the hardest for many of us. Tough thinks so:

"This was harder for Paula and me--it came less naturally to us than the hugging and comforting--and I know that it is just the beginning of the long struggle we face, as all parents do, between our urge to provide everything for our children, to protect him from all harm, and our knowledge that if we really want him to succeed, we need to first let him fail. Or more precisely, we need to help him learn to manage failure. This idea--the importance of learning how to deal with and learn from your own failures--is a common thread in many chapters of this book."

1. Protect from trauma and chronic stress.
2. Give a secure relationship with a parent.
3. Discipline, rules, limits, "no."
4. Let him fail and learn to manage failure.

Which is hardest for you?
I do think we know the basics.
I think they are hard to deliver, day after day, year after year.
All through childhood, adolosence, and teen years.
It is only by God's grace and power that we do these.

A beginning point is to know the list. And, to know that, for our children to succeed, we may need to change ourselves and some things in our lives.

It is hard work.
It pays off.
It is worth it.

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