Is a little suffering good for kids?

Laura Sandefer

February 16, 2018

My childhood was not one of ease. My parents had all of us kids work! As a youngster, I mowed lawns, cleaned houses, swept job sites, cooked dinner, pulled dandelion weeds, babysat, and often did my own laundry. My parents were big believers in teaching us to work and manage our small earnings. I will never forget my first checking account. My dad taught me how to balance my check register and how to budget my money. I was responsible for buying my own clothes and toiletries. I will never forget bouncing a check as a teen – totally humiliating! My dad helped pay the debt and lovingly taught me a huge lesson – I have never bounced another check in my life! As a teen, I felt the pressure and saw the stress my parents went through as small business owners. Money was often tight and clients consumed my dad’s free time. Our home life was far from utopic and my parents eventually divorced. That said, they gave us the gift of a little “suffering”. The biggest thing I learned from my parents was to work hard, have faith, and use my talents and strengths to problem solve. Learning to problem solve and work hard creates resilience which is a fundamental skill needed to lead a fulfilling life.

Now as a mom, I have recently realized that I am missing the boat with my own kids when it comes to the idea of suffering. Our kids don’t mow our lawn, I do their laundry, and especially around Christmas they get what they want under the tree (within reason). I often go to great lengths to create utopia for them.  Wanting to avoid some of the hurtful things of my childhood has in some regards made me feel pressure to make my kids life perfect. At night its easier for me to do the dinner dishes than listen to them complain about helping!  Our culture of “give me more” is robbing children of one of life’s most beautiful lessons – suffering can be good. When we pad our children’s lives so much they don’t learn that choices have consequences.  When everything is easy, we cripple them as the real world isn’t easy. When we step in and solve their problems for them, they miss the life-giving lesson of conflict resolution.  What is tragic is that we often do this under the banner of loving our children.  I am learning that sometimes tough love is far more beneficial than creating a life of ease for my kids.

One of the beautiful things about Acton is that children are given the opportunity to experience real world consequences.   If you don’t do your work, you don’t earn eagle dollars. If you choose to violate the school rules, a fellow student can ask for an eagle dollar to be taken away or you might be asked to leave the program. If you choose to not do your work, you don’t earn a badge. The goal of an Acton education is to provide a safe environment for children to learn that there are consequences to their choices.  Students learn without a parent or teacher brow beating them into submission. If a student wants to achieve and progress it is up to them to make it happen. Do we want our children to do well in school out of fear of our negative opinion or failing a class? Or do we want our children to succeed in school because they are passionate about their work and they want to succeed? I really want the later for my kids – I want them to make good choices because their internal compass is leading them in that direction not because I am standing over their shoulder willing them to comply.

One of my children REALLY wanted something in the eagle buck store. Said child came home crying because they really wanted this item. They thought I was unfair and mean because I wouldn’t 1) lower the price 2) give them money 3) make it easier to earn the eagle dollars. I stuck to my guns and low and behold my child figured it out. They wrote a list of what they had to accomplish to earn the money to fund their purchase. This was not an easy process as I heard complaining and whining for days after school.  My child learned an amazing lesson!  The same is true with conflict resolution at school. Instead of stepping in as adults, we let the children solve their problems. I have seen students who started at the school lacking these skills now able to state their opinion calmly and respectfully. Students who had a hard time accepting responsibility for their behavior and chose to lie, get physical, or get angry are learning that this is not a good coping skill. Children who otherwise wouldn’t have typically stood up for themselves are learning that their voice matters and that they can respectfully help fellow eagles comply with school rules.

As we approach the end of 2016, I want to reevaluate adding a little “suffering” into my kids’ lives. There is no reason for me to stay up till 10 pm doing laundry when I have able bodied helpers. We will launch a Money Quest in 2017 where children can explore the history of money, banking, the stock market, and money management. This will tie into the Children’s Business Market we are launching in April 2017.

Parenting is tough and not for the faint of heart! Here are a few resources I found helpful.  If you have any useful parenting tools, please share them with me!  I am far from a perfect parent and I consider myself a fellow traveler bumbling along trying to raise good kids that become great adults.  This Christmas, there will be less under our tree and more community service.

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