Heart-Mind 2013: Nurturing Character in My Children

By Lisa Geddes

     There is a delicate balance between pushing our kids too hard and not pushing them hard enough. Should I let my daughter quit soccer or insist she continue because quitting is not the right thing to do and participating in team sports is a valuable experience? Should I run to my four-year-old son in every moment of crisis or are there times when he needs to pick himself up, dust himself off and keep going on his own? These are the types of questions every parent struggles with.

     I was very interested to hear Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, present at the Dalai Lama Center For Peace + Education’s Heart-Mind 2013 Conference. Mr. Tough shared a perspective that made perfect sense to me – that high IQ’s and test scores do not make for a successful life, but character traits are a much better indicator.

     He shared the story of two New York schools whose students were academically successful and going on to highly acclaimed post secondary institutions, and yet these students weren’t able to handle set backs well. The schools joined efforts to explore the importance of developing character in their students and established a list of character traits fundamental to success: optimism, zest, grit, curiosity, social intelligence, gratitude and self-control.

     While this list is revealing and helpful, the question of how to nurture these traits in our children remains unclear. Mr. Tough pointed out that important skills are taught through our relationship with our children and those they have attachments to. He spoke in-depth about the different challenges faced by parents and caregivers in lower socioeconomic areas versus those in more affluent communities. It is clear that kids need to experience some adversity in their lives to develop a strong character. Children need to learn that things don’t always go their way and experiencing failure is essential for them to develop grit, zest, gratitude and self-control.

     The disproportionate amount of adversity that kids in lower socioeconomic communities experience is a greater issue that we all need to be aware of and help solve. But it’s interesting that kids from affluent families grow up with not enough adversity and are not equipped to deal with life’s challenges. Herein lies my greatest challenge as a parent.

     My parents grew up with very little, worked extremely hard and enjoyed few luxuries for most of their lives.  In my opinion, they have tremendous character and are able to overcome any challenge life hands them. I grew up as part of that narrative and spent every summer travelling to my parents’ hometown where I experienced their story first-hand. My children are removed from that narrative and are growing up in much more fortunate circumstances. They have a loving extended family, attend a high-ranking school with all of the resources necessary to do an exceptional job. They have a wide circle of friends, participate in many activities and take regular vacations.

     I am grateful that we are able to provide the childhood my kids are growing up with, but I am deeply concerned they are being raised in an insulated environment of entitlement. We have strived to keep consumerism at bay, and to teach them to work hard and give back, but I can’t say they’ve experienced much adversity in their young lives. I don’t want to manufacture it for them and I don't want to see them struggle like my parents did. But the message is clear: kids have to learn how to manage failure.

     Mr. Tough validated what I already believed in my heart. I have to encourage my kids to take risks and I have to let them fail. It’s my job to teach them how to manage those situations on their own – to pick up the pieces and keep on going. It is not my job to prevent failure or adversity on their behalf. I will always want the best for them, but helping them manage loss, disappointment and failure is far more important to their success and happiness in life than my desire to never see them hurt or in pain.

     Like those students in New York, it doesn’t matter what kind of lifestyle I can provide for my kids or how high their grades are. There will come a time when they will have to manage set backs and losses without me and I want them to be able to do that with strength of character, confidence and grace. Perhaps the balance between pushing them too hard and not pushing them hard enough is not that delicate after all.

Lisa Geddes is a mentor, brand storyteller, principal of Lisa Geddes Marketing & Communications and mom to two amazing little people. She is an advisor to the DLC, which has proven invaluable in her quest to become a role model of mindful behaviour for her family.




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