I am grateful for a battle my parents did not fight for me when I was in first grade. When I was 7, I had to go to after-school care. It was essentially daycare that went from when the school day ended until a parent got off work. There was a red-headed boy in second grade (a year older than me) named Nathaniel. He was a prick. He would chase me, push me down, hurt me, and say mean things to me when he saw me at after-school care. As a 7 year-old, I was very upset about this, and I told my dad what was going on. He recognized Nathaniel needed to be dealt with, but instead of calling his parents (or the after-school care workers) and demanding a change in behavior, he empowered me to fix the issue on my own.
He told me the next time Nathaniel was beating me up, I should punch him in the face.
The next day in after-school care, Nathaniel started hurting me again. I remembered what my dad told me. I threw a right hook to the side of Nathaniel’s face, and he fell to the ground as a crying, sobbing mess. The after-school care workers yelled at me, and put me in a time-out until my dad came to pick me up. When I got in the car, he said I wasn’t in trouble and that I did the right thing. The next day, Nathaniel left me alone, but one of his goons came up to me and starting hurting me (as revenge for punching Nathaniel). I threw another right hook, and this new bully went down a crying, sobbing mess in the same fashion that Nathaniel did the day prior. The after-school worker again put me in time out until my dad came. My dad again told me I did the right thing.
Those two boys never harassed me (or any of my friends) again.
Nowadays, it’s probably not the best idea to tell your 7 year old to punch his bullies in the face, but back in the early 1990’s, it was GREAT advice!
I think every parent wants their kids to be strong. I don’t mean physical strength (although that is important, too), I mean the kind of strength that helps overcome adversity. I’m talking about grit.
Grit is what enables someone to not give up. Grit is rare.
Grit is one of the most valuable traits you can nurture into you child. Nurturing this trait is hard. Really hard. Part of this nurturing process means allowing your child to fail over and over again. This is heartbreaking to parents, which is why the majority of parents step in and try to fight the battles of their child. This could mean arguing with a teacher about a grade, doing and/or checking the homework of your child, or talking to the parents of another child who is causing problems for your child.
I am not advocating allowing your child to be picked on by teachers or other children; I am advocating that you empower your child to address their own problems. When you fight a battle for your child, you rob them of the experience of overcoming adversities. If you do this long enough, they will lack the ability to successfully overcome challenges as an adult.
The perfect time to learn how to deal with adversity is when the child is young. They can continue to gain this valuable experience through childhood and adolescence. By the time they are an adult (when the stakes are higher), they will be equipped to manage their own battles. Negotiating a starting salary, managing interpersonal conflict (either at home or the workplace), making and executing long term plans (career trajectories, advanced schooling, etc.), and raising kids of their own are all difficult tasks that are full of challenge. Fostering grit in your child when they are young will pay massive dividends when they grow up.
If you rob your child of overcoming adversity early in life, they will lack the necessary skill-set and mental fortitude to be successful as adults. Watching children fail is hard, but watching your adult children fail to launch as adults is even harder. In summary, if it is too gut-wrenching to watch your child fail when he is young, you will get to watch him fail as adult for the rest of your life.