Monday, September 2, 2013

Teaching Kids to Do Hard Things

Still Smiling: after the race
Today Tutty Tutt ran a 5K by my side. We Ran in the Payson Onion Days race along with 200-300 others.  We were joined by my dad and two of my three brothers. I pushed Birdie along in the jogging stroller. When we talked about Scott running, I was concerned about his ability to finish a 5K, it had been a few months since he had run a mile. With no training, I gave him the only advice I could think to share: I told him it would be hard, that it would hurt, but if he stopped to walk that it would prolong his agony.  I'm sure some of you would wonder about me so advising my eleven year old son. There are many proponents who feel like kids are pushed to do too much, but I don't see it that way.

When I was in high school I decided to run cross country. It was a lot of fun being on the team and I enjoyed the friendships, but it taught me some valuable life lessons as well. In preparation for our season, we would meet on summer mornings to run as a group. As a sophomore-to-be, I was not slated to run varsity, and would not factor much into the team. On quite a few of our runs I would wait until I felt some pain and would walk for a while before I ran again.

One day my teammate Sam mentioned to me that I was cheating myself by walking. He told me that everyone on the team felt like walking, but actually walking did not help to train the body to be comfortable with higher levels of pain. I'm not sure Sam ever realized the impact of those few words on me. I'm certain it seemed obvious to him and somewhere inside I knew those truths as well. Being called out ended up elevating my "running career" substantially.

Today as Scott and I ran, I could see him go through cycles and stages. There were times when he told me he couldn't do it. Other points where what he was accomplishing seemed to excite him. There were times where he was in so much pain that he was a little unpleasant with me, but he never stopped to walk. He wanted with every part of his body to stop, but he kept going on. He did a very hard thing and taught himself someone about what he is capable of.

A few years ago We had a wonderful neighbor that is very special to our family. After breaking down some walls we got to a point where we would mow her lawn in the summertime. Scott wanted to help so we began by having him walk with me behind him helping to guide him with the mower. Eventually he became proficient enough that he could do it himself.  In between starting and mastering lawn mowing was a lot of tough times.  He would get discouraged by a lack of progress or would just be flat-out exhausted.  When he was frustrated, he continued on with encouragement from us. Today he mows either our front or back lawn weekly and does a great job.  He has mastered something that many kids his age have not yet, because he was willing to do something that was hard for him.

Why challenge him? Why ask him to do hard things? Is it because I don't want to do the work myself?  Maybe a little. The reality is I know that life is hard. I know there will come a point where he won't have me by his side to teach him to work and to push outside of his comfort zone. When that time comes I want him to be capable and competent. Most importantly he needs to know the agony that success requires. Very few success stories come from people who didn't first work and persevere through plenty of hard situations.

We don't do our children any favors by coddling them. We can show love and confidence in them. We can teach them how to do hard things. We can work side by side with them. Until we are willing to let them struggle and pay a price, they will never truly grow. Adversity does not build character, it simply shows what is already there. It is our job as parents to shepherd our families through difficult circumstances so they can learn to do hard things. When they know for themselves that life is hard, but they can succeed and do hard things their dependence on parents diminishes.
Lulu, Birdie, and Tutty Tutt

Today's race was a chance for Scott to learn something about himself and he did learn. Tomorrow will bring its own challenges and circumstances, we will not rescue him from his trouble, we will help him work through it himself. When he stumbles or needs encouragement we will be there to cheer him on.  When he fails on occasion  we will teach him that true failure comes when we stop trying to succeed.  I'm proud of Scott and I did feel sympathy for him as he gingerly walked down the stairs this evening to go to bed.  That pain that he earned is real.
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