Challenge Success: A Dawson Parent’s Perspective

This past September, I had the privilege of attending the Challenge Success Fall 2018 Conference at Stanford University as a Dawson parent representative. Ask any of my friends or family members: After returning, they jokingly thought I had joined the Challenge Success cult. Why am I so excited about what I heard there? It’s because I could not wait to share the eye-opening insights I heard from experts about common-sense approaches to the struggles our students and children face today, from both a social-emotional and an academic perspective.

One of the most impactful keynote speeches I heard was led by Challenge Success Founder Dr. Madeline Levine, a psychologist and author of several books on parenting. What stood out in my mind during her lecture was her assertion that our kids need to be permitted to fail in order to grow, stating, “Mistakes are the foundation of competence, and our kids need to tolerate and even welcome them.” She has learned from years of counseling kids that many students are not given the opportunity to fail and, as a consequence, are not equipped for the later stages of adolescence and even adulthood. Additionally, she asserts it is also the parents who need to be secure with their kids’ failures—not an easy feat in today’s hyper-competitive world.

Dr. Levine explained how our own parenting anxiety, including overscheduling for “fear of missing out” and emphasizing isolated grades over long-term learning, gets in the way of our children’s wellbeing. Many of the children she counsels say they feel “manufactured” or “engineered” by their parents, a testament to the reasons why parental over-involvement often complicates children’s ability to manage as they progress through life. She described how parents are often concerned that if we don’t do everything possible to make our kids’ lives easier or offer every chance for advancement, our kids will be at a deficit in some way.

However, Dr. Levine argues—and the research supports—if we indeed do everything for our children, they may become “impaired” simply because they haven’t learned to develop coping skills and resilience. Her objective is to teach parents that kids need to take risks and fall short sometimes – and that having manageable disappointments and failures are key to their growth and future success. The goal is to allow each child to create their own individual definition of success, which she calls “authentic success”, so students stay engaged with learning as they grow and mature. Most importantly, she asked each parent in attendance to consider the meaning behind their family “goal” or “core”: Is it about winning at any cost? Or is it more about the process of developmentally-appropriate learning to help our kids achieve the kind of happiness we hope for them to have?

The insight shared during the Challenge Success conference left a lasting impression on me and reminded me of the reason we’ve all chosen Dawson for our children: The School focuses on the emotional care of our entire community, and learning is meaningfully individualized to enhance the unique needs of each student. Incredible work is being accomplished within every classroom in support of our children discovering their own definition of success.

By Carolyn Wood
Dawson Parent

This post was originally published on The Alexander Dawson School website.