The Gift of a Challenge

The holiday season is the time of year when we find ourselves scurrying around during the hectic shopping days of December, searching tirelessly for that perfect gift for each of our loved ones. The powerful urge to bestow them with whatever will make them happy is difficult to resist, even though we know that the happiness these gifts provide will be fleeting. Nevertheless, during this time of the year, more than any other, we tend to give in to the temptation to indulge. Creating those indelible memories is part of the magic of the season. Fortunately, the New Year brings us back to our senses, and we pledge to make amends for our excesses, resolving to be more reasonable and accountable.   

As parents, we are constantly seeking ways to make our children happy. It’s a feeling that actually has little to do with the expectations of the season, and is especially present when they encounter difficulties or face obstacles that pose a threat to their success. Often, our most basic, protective instinct is to step in and pave the way by removing any hardships that appear in their path. Our tendency to rescue them from situations that might jeopardize their progress is understandable. After all, we want their lives to be…well, happy.

Psychologist and educator Carol Dweck, Ph.D., author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” has noted that the authentic happiness that we want for our children is not something given, like a holiday package. Rather, it must be earned. Their independence and autonomy—our primary goal for them as parents—can only be achieved when we step aside and allow them to tackle problems themselves. As difficult as that can be, it is what they need most from us.  

Dr. Dweck states “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”

At Fessenden, we offer a curriculum that provides students with opportunities to solve real-world problems. Through carefully-designed project-based learning experiences, they are encouraged to tackle challenges that call on their critical thinking skills, initiative, and creativity. Solutions aren’t handed to them; they must seek them out, often benefiting most by the mistakes they make along the way.

We will always treasure the holiday memories we make with that perfect gift, but there is no doubt that providing our children with a firm belief in their own ability to take on challenges is the gift that keeps on giving.

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