Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Coping Skills and How Children Succeed

When our oldest kids were two, I remember a mom asking me about "the terrible twos", and if Eason was acting up a lot recently, but he hadn't been. Later she showed me an article explaining the terrible twos, and why it was common behavior for two year olds who are having difficulty with the increased expectations that are placed on them relatively suddenly, because of their increased speech development.

Having read this she was satisfied that this was normal behavior. I interpreted the article quite differently. My interpretation was that its never too early to start developing your child's coping skills.

When Eason was learning to walk I remember parents suggesting that there was no reason to push them since they would all learn to walk eventually, and they were right. Eventually they all learned to walk, and the ones who learned to walk first did not walk any better than the others. However, reflecting back, these were opportunities for children to learn the rewards of overcoming adversity. This is a foundation that can be built on with every hard-earned accomplishment.

Paul Tough talks about this on The Leonard Lopate Show where he discusses his book: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. What he refers to as "grit" I tend to think of as proactive and reactive coping skills.

He also touches on the limitations of standardized testing, as they lead to neglecting these skills that are better at determining success.


  1. Its never too early to start teaching your kids coping skills. When my oldest was a toddler I remember a parent telling me it was okay for them to press all the buttons on the elevator, because they were young and didn't know any better. But then at what age do you decide its no longer acceptable? And when you do, how do you explain to your child that all of the sudden, things that were acceptable no longer are? Why not teach them from the beginning?

    As soon as my son was old enough to make a mess with his toys we decided that he was old enough to clean them up. At first my wife pointed out that it was so much easier for her to clean them up. She could cleanup in five minutes what would take him an hour. But we agreed that we would just have to put aside that hour for him to start cleaning up. It was difficult at first, but eventually he could clean up the biggest messy room in no time, even a post Thanksgiving disaster that I found intimidating. He also learned the value early on of not making a big mess.

    Even when he first started walking I recall a parent asking what was the point of trying to get them to walk early since eventually they will learn to walk equally. But the point is not to have them learn to walk earlier than their peers. The point is to present them with a reasonable amount of adversity so that they can internalize the reward that comes with effort.

    Now there are many events in my children's past they we can reflect on as examples of things that they struggled with, but eventually succeeded at.

  2. More recently a parent asked me a similar question about academics. The question was "does having a head start early in elementary school carry over? Don't they all eventually catch up?" The parent went on to suggest that while a first grader could be at a second grade level, a sixth grader couldn't really be at a seventh grade level.

    I totally disagree with this. First of all I do think a sixth grader could be at a seventh grade level, or beyond. More importantly, unlike walking, most academic understanding, and especially mathematics are cumulative. You need to learn one thing before you can understand the next. While its possible that someone might just understand something early, and will eventually allow other to catchup to them, it is also possible for them to maintain a faster rate of learning. This means that they can gradually increase the gap between themselves and others.

    This is hard to do with school alone, as most schools are limited in their ability to cater to varying rates of learning. However there are ways to supplement classroom learning in order to maintain a faster rate of learning.


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