Core Practices – The Success Cycle (2)

by Charles Debelak

As I explained last month, the first aim of the success cycle is to help children create a history of achievement and progress. This history leads to self-confidence and self-worth – cornerstones for growth. Its second aim is to help children create the habits and ethics for personal productivity and achievement. These are the backbone of lifelong growth and success: hard work, self-discipline, determination, self-reliance, resilience, time management, and organization. Find a successful person and you will find these attributes.

I purposely use the term “help children create” because these qualities do not occur in children by nature. They have to be nurtured and cultivated. They take shape through time and effort. This calls for a partnership with parents or teachers, who through a wise and loving relationship with children, become like gardeners nurturing accomplished young people. 

The implications are obvious. If we want children to develop achievement ethics, then we will need to invest time and effort. These habits do not magically appear. There is a process of hard work and struggle. A process of working together through difficulties and disappointments. But it is “working together,” and “struggling together,” that ultimately creates behaviors. 

Two efforts help children create these behaviors: teaching and training. Teaching involves explaining the habits for success and also pointing out models of exemplary stories of success. Teaching awakens a child’s heart to exemplary behaviors.

On the other hand, training provides the experiences which forge these behaviors into a child’s character. The child needs to experience hard work, self-discipline, and all the other productive behaviors so that these behaviors are woven into their constitution. In other words, they become part of his or her character. Let me illustrate with some examples. Concerning goal setting, one father I knew would take his son out for a cup of hot chocolate a few times a year and they would discuss goals. They would talk about his weaknesses, his strengths, his interests. Dad took the time to find out more about his son and partnered with him to establish particular goals in school, in extracurricular activities, and in hobbies. Dad purposely did not make a long list, just enough to create one or more clearly articulated goals. Then the two of them would construct an action plan with timelines and achievement markers. Working toward the goals was a team effort. The child had to do the work, but Dad rendered wise support. Both rejoiced when the child achieved his goals.

In another example concerning self-discipline and time management, I recall a mother who understood her son’s academic goals and needs, but also felt it was important for her son to continue his progress in baseball. Quite a challenge – excellent athlete and excellent student. This dual challenge forced problems with time management. Realizing this, Mom taught her son how he could accomplish both. She told him, “No problem, busy people get stuff done!” In partnership with her son, they figured out ways to use his time productively. While driving to baseball practice, they memorized spelling words. During breaks at practice her son reviewed multiplication facts. It became evident to him that he could do it all if he managed his time well.

What was evident to me in both of these cases, and in hundreds of other similar cases at Birchwood, a child’s success was rooted in the commitment of parents. In order for these parents to create a child’s experience and history of success, these parents had to dedicate themselves to the process. They had to understand that their child was bright and able to achieve, but he or she required support and guidance until self-agency could emerge. 

I think one more example is necessary. Cultivating resilience. How does a child learn this invaluable skill? There is no shortcut. A child needs to experience frustration, disappointment, and failure. They must learn how to work through feelings of anxiety, stress, or weariness. A child may arrive at these feelings for many reasons. Perhaps the goal was too high. Perhaps they quit halfway through the process. Perhaps they were distracted by friends, social media, video games, or other pleasures children enjoy. Perhaps they just “ran out of gas,” their interest waned and they stopped working.

Whatever the reasons, they failed and now they need Mom or Dad. They do not need them to scold or discipline (although this is sometimes necessary). But much more, they need guidance on how to overcome difficulties and hardship. They need help identifying the reasons they failed. They need help understanding some of their weaknesses and how to overcome them. But most importantly they need to be held accountable while also receiving understanding and comfort. “Well, you failed. But that does not mean you should quit. Let’s figure this out. Let’s find a fresh pathway to success. Let’s learn how to overcome our failures and strive again for success.”

Click here to watch Mr. Debelak’s video on the Success Cycle.

This article was written by Birchwood’s Head of School Charles Debelak to provide parents with information about sound educational principles and child development issues gleaned from history, contemporary research, and his 50+ years of educating, coaching, and counseling children, young adults, and parents.