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Why Your Child’s Struggles Are Good For Her

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

We’d all like our children to have easy lives. We’d like them to sail through all their school subjects, be picked first for playground games, and find no frustration or setbacks in anything they try. Sometimes we want this so much that we believe it’s the way things should be – and when they aren’t then there must be something wrong.

The fact is, though, that struggle is good for kids. Struggle is how growth happens. A recent investigation of the differences between Korean students and American students showed that Korean kids – well-known as a group for their high academic achievement – are not discouraged by struggle. They know how to persist and come out on top.

American students tend to give up. They seem to think that they should be “good already” at whatever they undertake.

This attitude – that being good at something is part of a person’s personality and not something that develops through effort – is known as “trait orientation.” Children tend to develop this in the early school years. Obviously, toddlers don’t think this way. If they did, they’d give up immediately on learning to walk!

Believing that one has to be “good at math” to be good at math sets a kid up for failure. It gives her a ready excuse for not trying – “I’m just not good at that” – and it shuts down any learning that might help the child feel more confident. When parents support this idea, by saying, “I’m not any good at math either,” they teach a child that the only things worth doing are things that come easy.

But most things worth doing have to be learned. A more useful point-of-view is a “performance orientation,” in which a person recognizes that becoming good at something is accomplished through learning and practice. Under a performance orientation, anything is possible. If it’s not easy yet, it will be easy someday, after a person has learned more and become more expert.

One way to encourage a performance orientation is to smile and say, for example, “You’re not good at math yet. But you will be. I have confidence in you.”

It’s important that we parents accept that not everything will come naturally for our kids but that giving up too soon is not the way to go. Giving up limits a child to who he is and what he knows right now. It doesn’t let him grow.

By adopting a performance orientation for our children – and, yes, even for ourselves – we set the expectation that the best is yet to come. What we want to be able to do and be is within our powers to achieve.

Struggle may be tiresome. But struggle is a very good thing.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.