Parenting Articles by Jessica Lahey

As we prepare for the 2016 Bringing Schools Together conference on October 4 and 5 at Porter-Gaud School, it has been encouraging to hear from parents who not only have read the work of guest speaker Jessica Lahey but also have put her suggestions into practice. Lahey’s message of giving children the autonomy necessary for development into responsible and successful adults has resonated with many parents and teachers at our school. 

In addition to writing her book The Gift of Failure: Why Parents Need to Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, Lahey has contributed many articles to other publications, such as The New York Times. Here are a few of my favorites: 

“Parenting, Not for the Moment, but for the Long Haul”
The title of this article captures the main idea of Lahey’s work: parents and teachers must focus on what’s best for children in the long term rather than what’s best (or easiest) right now. Lahey writes, “Children don’t take a direct path to adulthood; they wander. They are less concerned with our elaborate timelines and checklists than the fairy houses and climbing trees they spot along the side of the road.” Our children deserve for us to allow them to explore those fairy houses and trees. 

“How Can You Make a Student Care Enough to Work Harder?” 
Lahey shares the thoughts of several trusted colleagues when answering the question in the title of this article. As in much of her work, she recommends focusing on effort rather than results and advocates intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivators. In other words, parents and teachers should encourage pride in a job well done and the development of autonomy rather than emphasizing the importance of grades. 

“Helping Kids Take Criticism Constructively (Even When It Isn’t Constructive)” 
Lahey writes, “Receiving feedback is a skill, and like most skills, it requires practice, and a willingness to change and improve. Most children get plenty of practice. Ironically, adults need to help them make that practice count — by giving them feedback on how they handle criticism.” Lahey shares suggestions that adults can use to present feedback to children in a way that can help them to become more resilient. 

“When Children Say ‘I Can’t,’ but They Can, and Adults Know It” 
In this article, Lahey examines the phenomenon of learned incompetence, in which people “know from experience that if they stall, delay or refuse to do something they don’t want to do, someone will eventually do it for them.” There is not one simple solution, but Lahey provides great advice for parents and teachers, especially about how to interpret what may be behind this behavior. 

“When a Child’s Project Shows a Parental Hand at Work” 
In this article, Lahey tells the amusing story of her third grade son’s wax museum project. When she toured the “wax museum”, Lahey saw that “some posters were neater than others, but nearly all were the adorable, misshapen, appropriately flawed products of third-grade hands.” Importantly, she recommends not only that parents allow their children to create their own school projects, but also that teachers assess projects based on grade- and age-appropriate standards. 

“For a Child With Learning Differences, Making Home a Safe Harbor” 
Many of Lahey’s articles refer to the incredible work of Stanford professor Carol Dweck, especially her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck’s research shows that having a “growth” mindset, in which an individual believes that effort can lead to increased intelligence, skill, or abilities, leads to more positive results than a “fixed” mindset, in which an individual believes that he or she is born with fixed abilities or talents. Lahey writes that the family of a child with learning difficulties needs to “shift its focus away from her failings and toward her potential. Her differences are viewed all too often as negative, something that threatens her normalcy, but she likely possesses unique strengths as a result of those cognitive differences.” 

“Give Late Blooming Children the Time They Need” 
When my children were much younger, I often read Jose Aruego’s book Leo the Late Bloomer with them. This wonderful book reinforces the concept that each child develops at his or her own pace. In Lahey’s words, “We all watch our children as they grow, for signs that all is well. We crave evidence, both of their healthy development and of our own competence as parents, and lacking any other source of information, we scan the playground for comparisons. That boy can count to 100 in Spanish while my son can barely speak his native tongue. That child can traverse the play structure with the athleticism of a spider monkey, while mine needs help climbing up the slide. That girl can eat her healthful snack with chopsticks, while my child eats his boogers.” In the end, though, all children bloom in their own ways on their own schedules. 

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Mason Preparatory School
56 Halsey Blvd Charleston, SC 29401
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