Saturday, October 01, 2016

Our kids need to face adversity to truly grow

My son has many passions. Running. Hiking and camping. Cycling. Marching.
Every single one of those activities is on hold.
Cooper is in the middle of healing from a stress fracture at the base of his fibula, directly above his left ankle. The pain began at a cross country meet and totally debilitated him during practice a few days later.
So he's wearing a walking boot to give his ankle time to rest, and he's not suiting up with his team, enjoying the outdoors with his troop, riding his bike to school or marching at halftime.
This is when my theories on a growth mind-set are totally tested.
Children need to learn how to handle disappointment, frustration and heartache. They need to develop perspective and healthy coping skills.
I embrace the idea that grit is an essential trait for success.
The trouble with grit, though, is that you've got to go through adversity to practice.
It's a challenge I face daily as a mom and a teacher.
I want my children, the two who live in my home and the 41 who learn in my classroom, to develop passionate perseverance. I want them prepared to tackle big problems. I want them to face challenges with cheerful spirits and happy hearts.
I just don't want them to actually face the pain -- the physical aches, the emotional trials, the mental strain -- that accompanies those challenges.
It's an irrational wish, of course. We all face challenges. We all suffer. We all make mistakes. We can't shelter our children from every stumble -- and we create potential damage when we try.
When a child struggles with a particular reading skill, for example, she deserves to know. We name the skill, indicate where she is now, set a goal for where she needs to go and work toward that goal, one step at a time. It's powerful to watch a child persevere toward a goal and incredibly rewarding to celebrate with her once she's achieved it.
If a child continually leaves homework at home, and you continually deliver it for him instead of allowing the natural consequence of a late grade, he will never learn to bring the homework himself.
It's the same with grief. When a child faces a loss, -- death of a loved one, divorce, broken relationship -- she needs to acknowledge the pain and rely on trusted adults to foster appropriate coping skills. Allowing or forcing the child -- or worse, forcing the child -- to ignore the grief fails to make room for valuable healing and tools for the next, inevitable loss.
The most recent X-ray of Cooper's ankle reveals a cloud of protective cells over the fracture, indicating that the body is working toward healing. He won't be down forever -- just a small blip in a big timeline.
Cooper has handled his injury with grace. He never complains about the clunky boot. He continues to attend band practice and games, albeit with a smaller role. We talk frequently about the long-term goal -- to be completely healed so that he can enjoy an active lifestyle his whole life -- to help him get through the short-term disappointment of missing his favorite fall activities.
He's building inner strength now, and he'll have time to rebuild strength in his leg later. He's got miles to run, mountains to climb, trails to bike and music to play. I suspect he'll tackle them all with gratitude and a renewed zest when time allows.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

No comments: