Finding the recipe to your child's success
Character strengths including optimism, self-control and perseverance are just as vital for future success as academic attainment, author Paul Tough tells Lisa Salmon.
Many parents believe that the recipe for success in life lies in doing well at school and earning a hoard of good exam results.
It is true that academic attainment gives children a better chance of a successful career and life, a new book argues that the cognitive skills developed as a child may not be as important as a very different set of qualities that add up to a child's character.
For his book How Children Succeed, author Paul Tough studied huge amounts of research on children's education, ability and success, and concluded: "The conventional wisdom that has guided our thinking about child development and education has been misguided.
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"We've been emphasising a set of skills – IQ and the sort of cognitive skills that are measured on standardised tests – and a lot of people believe that they are the one determinant of how well a child does in life.
"But the scientists and educators I write about in the book have identified a very different set of skills, things like grit and perseverance, conscientiousness, curiosity and optimism, which they say are at least as important as those cognitive, IQ-type skills, and arguably much more so."
Strengths such as these, he says, often explain why some people manage to overcome harsh beginnings and achieve huge success in life.
"It's true on the flip-side as well. There are a lot of kids who seem like the perfect students, but when they get out into the world, they find it very difficult to do well.
"In many cases that's because they lack the character strengths that help them succeed."
The good news, says Tough, is that such skills can be developed as a child grows, although it is not quite as simple as reading a book or learning times tables.
In the primary school years, a major part of the way the important character skills develop is through dealing with challenges and failure, and having the right attitude to failure.
But parents need to be careful not to approach their children's potential failures in the wrong way, says Tough, who points out that some mums and dads will talk to their kids about setbacks, adversity and failure as though they were real catastrophes.
He said: "That makes it difficult for kids to develop the grit, perseverance and self-confidence that they need to move forward."
When something goes wrong, in many cases it is a good idea for parents to step back and let children solve their own problems and deal with the consequences, Tough says.
He points out that Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck found that there are two types of people: those who have a fixed mindset and believe intelligence and other skills are static and inborn, and those who have a growth mindset and believe intelligence can be improved.
Dweck discovered that students who think intelligence can be improved actually do improve their grades at school.
Dweck said: "They work harder, and they take setbacks better because they believe that it's not a reflection of something inherent in themselves.
"They understand it was just something that they didn't work or try hard enough at, and that pushes them to go further next time."