‘Grit’ or resilience is a positive mental attitude which is characterised by perseverance, self-direction and taking responsibility for one’s own future success. This ‘grit’ has been identified as developing over time through the act of struggling. And this is why struggle can be a good thing.
Parents all want their children’s lives to run as smoothly as possible. However, knowing that they have high learning potential can also increase the pressure we place on ourselves as parents to ensure that this potential is not wasted; that our children have the chance to mostly experience the positives of life and remain relatively unscathed by the negatives. Struggles in life; no matter at what stage, are bound to leave their mark. But what if that ‘mark’ is no bad thing? What if the very act of struggling is in fact a necessity for children with high learning potential, in order to build that much-needed and vital attribute of resiliency? There is a growing consensus amongst parenting experts and psychologists, who are adamant that without a certain degree of struggling, the prospect of reaching one’s potential is unlikely.
In knowing that our children have high learning potential from an early age, it is of course natural to be concerned that we, as parents, do our best to ensure that they have the right opportunities and support to fulfil that potential. But how can we, as responsible and caring parents, strike the balance between being so ‘hands-off’ that our children don’t tell us when they need help and swooping in at the first sign of discomfort or frustration?
Supporting a child without intervening is not as easy as it seems, simply because as we become more and more adept at parenting, the instinct to nurture and protect at all times becomes second nature. When our children were babies, we learnt how to decipher their every gesture, grimace, and smile or cry in order to almost pre-empt their demand for the very basics of survival. Almost overnight, we become less selfish; suddenly, thoughts of their future safety and well-being become more important than our own. Our first instinct as a parent is to ‘fix’ the ‘problem’. But is this always what is required and who does it benefit long-term…the parent or the child? The concept of purposefully stepping back and allowing our children to experience those very raw negative emotions associated with struggling is an alien one to most parents. Why then is it important and sometimes essential to let our children struggle? The Parable of the Butterfly has frequently been quoted to demonstrate the importance of building resilience in children by allowing them to follow their own journey; despite sometimes stumbling and struggling along the way.
The Parable of the Butterfly Whilst in his garden one day, a man saw a cocoon hanging from a twig. From then on, every day, he checked to see if anything had come out. One day a small opening appeared! The man was delighted and sat down to witness that special moment when a beautiful butterfly finally emerges from its cocoon. The man watched patiently as the butterfly struggled to force its body out of the little hole. For several hours, the butterfly pushed and scraped against the inside of the cocoon. It worked and worked, and eventually, it stopped making any progress. The hole in the cocoon was only marginally bigger than when the man had first seen it. The man was sad that the butterfly was not strong enough to fight its way out of the cocoon. So, the man decided to help the butterfly. He fetched a small pair of scissors and cut off the remaining part of the cocoon. Finally, the butterfly was exposed to daylight for the first time since its metamorphosis. The butterfly fell out of the broken cocoon and the man eagerly waited for it to spread its beautiful wings and take flight. However, the butterfly’s body was swollen with fluid and its wings were weak and shrivelled. The man was saddened to witness the butterfly’s pitiful state. He was unaware that butterflies will cling onto the side of the chrysalis for an hour or so, to allow their wings to dry out and enable them to fly for the first time. The man continued to watch the butterfly. He expected that, at any moment, its wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body of the butterfly. He expected the butterfly to fly at any minute. Sadly, this didn’t happen. The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shrivelled wings. It was never able to fly. It was still a beautiful insect and the man imagined that it would have been even more stunning in flight. What the man did not understand was that the restricting cocoon was providing the butterfly with the struggle it required to become stronger. By spending time picking apart its now unwanted home, the butterfly was becoming stronger; the excess fluid from its body would have eventually spread to its wings; causing them to expand, ready for flight. In his act of kindness, the man had taken away the butterfly’s ability to become strong enough to face the world outside its cocoon. Sadly now, the butterfly was not as strong as it could have been. If only the man had allowed it to struggle when it needed to…
Our instinct as parents is to help our children, to protect them from every possible pit-fall that they may encounter. However, if our children sailed through childhood without any obstacles, they would not have the tools and skills to cope with what lies ahead in adolescence and adulthood. The difference then is that we will not be waiting in the wings to catch them as they fall. They will then need to navigate their own way through new struggles without the comforting safety net of a parent who can make it all go away. The skills and the lessons learned from experiencing struggles in childhood are what enable our children to ‘fly’ when they are ready and when they need to. A struggling child needs a parent’s empathy and support; but not for them to step in and solve the problem all of the time. The struggle is theirs and so it makes sense that the solution should be their own too. By sometimes stepping back and allowing a child to take ‘ownership’ of their problems, parents will later witness the child approaching a similar or entirely different struggle with a confidence and determination, which was once lacking. It is important that we remember that we have provided our children with the security they needed from the very start. Knowing this, should help us to find the confidence we need to allow our children to cope with a certain degree of struggle. They need to experience the fact that not everything in life comes easily and that perfection and a state of perpetual success are unattainable.
Ref: Focus on Potential ( Potential Plus)