How to Allow Your Child to Improve Through Struggle

Dear Kid Whisperer,
I am the parent of a very promising young lady. She is very smart and she is generally a very happy girl. She is going into her freshman year of high school. I often remark to my husband that she lives a charmed life. People like her and she is a very successful person. She just got her schedule for her first grading period. She completely fell apart. Her first period class is physical education. She says that she will “get sweaty and gross” and that it’s hard enough to be a freshman at this school, where kids really are known to be mean. What can I do to help her?
-Andrea, Euclid, Ohio

This is such an amazing question for a couple of different reasons. First, I had an old family friend tell me that her daughter was going through the exact same situation last week and second, I went through this as a sixth grader!
Indulge me in a quick story. In sixth grade, I was the only child in my K-6 school to have started puberty. Keep in mind, by “started” I mean I was shaving, I had acne, and I was awash in hormones. My classmates were these tiny kids and I was this hunched over giant monkey-boy. I left 5th grade in the spring a little, tiny, chipmunk-voiced kid. I came back to 6th grade in the fall seven inches taller and sounding like Darth Vader’s more mature older brother. To make this worse, I had Physical Education first period. No problem for the pre-pubescent pipsqueaks in my class. Big problem for Grendel. As I remember it, I stunk every day for a year. Not helpful for the self-esteem of a stressed out-pimple faced gorilla.
The point is, I get it. I’ve been there. It’s a terrible situation and it must be worse for a freshman girl. Your daughter is going to have a much more difficult year because of this. I want you to go to your daughter’s school. I want you to charge into the principal’s office. I want you to take him by the lapels and say these words very forcefully:
“Thank you for giving my daughter an opportunity to improve herself!!!!”

Now I want you to understand something about your child that you may have not considered about your child and about childhood:
***Bad things help your child to grow more than good things do.***

This is an opportunity for your daughter and for you. The answer to your question “What can I do to help her?” Is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!! By this, I don’t mean to just not help her because you could care less, I mean that the best way to help her is to not help her!

I want you to consider the idea that by doing anything to solve the problem, you are giving her the implicit message that she is incompetent and that she needs mommy and/or daddy to solve her problems. I am going to suggest that you want to get this idea out of her head before she enters college or the work force.

Now I’m not suggesting that you don’t care about your daughter and I’m not suggesting that you dismiss her. I am suggesting that you empathize fully and that you suggest possible solutions. My Love and Logic® response would go something like this:

Kid: AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!! I have PE first period every day!!!!!! It’s hard enough being a freshman. Now I have to be sweaty and gross. I have second period with Dante and he is going to ask Tiana out instead of me because she has Home Ec first period and she’s going to bring him cupcakes and I’m going to sit there in my own filth every day!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. This is awful. I’m so sorry…. What are you going to do?

Kid Whisperer: Would you like to know what some other people have tried?

Kid: What?!? I…guess.
Kid Whisperer: Some people try throwing a fit like a crazy person.
Kid: Real funny. Pass.

Kid Whisperer: Some people run away from home and join the circus.
Kid: Enough already.

Kid Whisperer: OK. Some people choose to cut their hair so that it looks cute in a pony tail.
Kid: I guess. Sort of… but I’m going to be… smelly.

Kid Whisperer: What could you do about that?
Kid: I guess I could bring deodorant to school.

Kid Whisperer: Will that work?
Kid: I guess it would help. I’m still going to be gross.

Kid Whisperer: Sounds like you have some good ideas on this. I’m sorry this happened. I’m proud of how well you’re handling this. Let me know if you need any more ideas on how to deal with this. I know that you’ll get through it.
Handling this situation this way shows your daughter that
1) You love her.
2) You only solve your own problems.
3) You have faith in her ability to solve her own problems.
Have faith in the fact that we all improve through struggle. Look back on your own life. No one looks back on things going perfectly and says “I grew a lot during that time”. People grow the most during the most difficult times in their lives. Love your daughter enough to allow her to struggle. I’m not saying that this situation will allow your daughter to become more popular, but it sounds like that might not be what she needs right now. Think of it this way. When your daughter is 40, will it be better that she went through this, or better if she didn’t?
You can’t always get what you want
But sometimes, you just might find,
You get what you need.
-The Rolling Stones

Good luck! Please let me know how things go! Let your child struggle and fail. She will be better for it!
-The Kid Whisperer