I want my kids to be resilient, and I have a new year’s strategy that I think will work. It is not based on research, but I am currently testing it, and I will share the results. It is not a strategy that parents should necessarily endorse whole-heartedly, but I hope they do, and I hope that some schools will also experiment with it in certain situations. I tested it two nights ago, and so far, I am convinced that I have the solution.
Here is the scenario. On Sunday morning, Jacob packed for his return to boarding school. I did all of his laundry the day before, and Kevin found all of his ski gear, but we didn’t do the usual scrutinizing of his packing as we were a bit preoccupied (We were also packing up after babysitting our two year old niece for three nights). The good news is that Jacob didn’t ask for help, and we were pleased with his initiative (another skill worthy of development in teens). To be honest, I didn’t even ask if he had everything; I was just happy that we were all out the door on time for a big family brunch.
So when the text came through that night at 9:05, when he was back in his room, I had a moment of motherhood guilt. He wrote: “So far I have forgotten my new pillow, face wash and winter boots.”
I couldn’t believe it. How could he not have his boots in January? I felt responsible. I also wanted to shake my head and judge us both, but mostly I worried for him (Note: it will be -31 in Lakefield today). I read his text to Kevin, and we agreed we would courier them the next day.
But then I had a pause. Professionally, I say that my job is to ask good questions. What if I did the same as a parent? Rather than jump to his rescue, what if I just asked questions? So I wrote the following: “Your winter boots?? What will you do?”
Now please do not judge me. I know a boy needs his boots. I was willing – still am! – to mail his boots to him. But how is he going to learn from his mistakes?
Every educational resource these days is asking that similar question; the trend is to call it grit. The latest – New Pedagogies for Deep Learning – is something I read over the holidays as background reading for our 2051 Project, and Fullan also identifies the need for schools to develop children with more grit. This is all good. Kids do need grit. I think Angela Duckworth said it first, then Paul Tough and Alfie Kohn were quick to agree, but noted that most current strategies – other than Carol Dweck’s mindset – aren’t working. So how do we teach grit? (And no, I don’t believe it is by letting kids freeze their feet, walking in snow.)
Here is my theory. If you want to teach grit? Follow these two simple words of advice. Now I could present complicated strategies for parents to pause and think of the bigger vision of what we want for our children. I could recommend that we reflect on our own critical learning moments in our lives and think about who solved the problem. (Research shows that we learn life’s most important lessons when our parents are not around (and I would hazard a guess that teachers weren’t involved either!)) So here it is, the two most powerful words of advice that parents can follow in 2015: back off.
So far, Jacob is proving me right. His reply made me realize that there’s hope for him.
Jacob: I have my suede boots but I might borrow.
Mom: Okay. You can survive without your pillow but you need boots. Let me know if I can help.
Jacob: Well I don’t think you can.
The next night I got this text from Jacob: “Played hockey today.”
I wanted to ask about boots… I am really curious to know what he is wearing! But I also know that playing shinny is his favourite thing to do at Lakefield, and I was just so happy that he texted to share that with me. I have to assume that he made it to and from the rink with something on his feet, and he has figured it out just fine.
So my new year’s resolution for 2015? Back off. This is new terrain for me; clearly, no room for cold feet along the way.