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Adversity – Why Children Need It

Adversity is the mother of progress. – Mahatma Gandhi

Adversity Breeds Success
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There is a breed of parents called the “snowplow” parents who are said to be different from the helicopter parent. Where helicopter parents are known to hover over their children, snowplow parents are better known for attempting to smooth the road for their children.

Helicopter parents hover and micro-manage out of fear. They observe every morsel that enters their child’s body, they monitor their every move, they keep a close eye on every scrap of homework. They hold their kids close to them because they’re anxious about the big, wide world.

Snow plow parents constantly force obstacles out of their kids’ paths. They have their eye on the future success of their child, and anyone or anything that stands in their way has to be removed. They are the parents sitting in the principal’s office asking about extra courses or for special allowances for their child. According to educators, there is a sense of entitlement to snowplowers: They blame the school when things go wrong and never accept anything less than first place for their child.

Today’s Parent

It is understandable to want to give your children a “leg-up” in this ultra-competitive world that we live in, but it is a very fine line between giving your child a “helping hand” and crippling your child. It seems obvious enough and yet the problem is growing. More and more parents have gone from being supportive to doing too much. We have parents calling college professors to complain about their children’s grades. There are even parents attending job interviews with their children! Then there was that mother who disguise herself as her 19 year old daughter so she could sit for her daughter’s exam. It doesn’t stop there.

One of the hardest tasks of being a parent is having to watch our children struggle. Too often, we want to swoop in and save the day. Yet, to do so would a huge disservice to our children. The struggle is an important life lesson that our children can only learn by going through it. When we rescue them, we rob them of the opportunity to see what they could have achieved.

Adversity Brings Perspective

In a study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers “found that people who had experienced a few adverse events in their lives reported better mental health and well being than people with a history of frequent adversity and people with no history of misfortune”. I believe this is because adversity provides perspective. How will you ever appreciate the good you’ve got it if you don’t know how bad things can get?

Adversity Builds Character

Adversity makes us strongerThe German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger”. The question is – will adversity make or break your child?

“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Shakespeare

Too often, the reason we shield our children is because we want to spare them the pain of failing. Every time we step in, we are unwittingly telling our children we think they can’t handle it. If we do this enough times, they may eventually believe it.

It is how we view adversity and how we help our children handle it that can alter the outcome of adversity and make it either good or bad. So how will you handle it? Will you teach your child to find their strength in adversity?

For more inspiration, see:

Adversity is to resilience what exercise is to muscles. The rules for building both are the same:

  • Just as we can injure ourselves by lifting weights that are too heavy for us, adversity that overwhelms our children can be harmful.
  • In order to build muscle, we need to push ourselves just hard enough to push the limits of our muscles without overwhelming them. The same goes with adversity and resilience.
  • Building muscle requires regular exercise; likewise, building resilience requires regular exposure to adversity.

Adversity Induces Creativity

Trauma shatters prior assumptions about the world and oneself. – Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, psychologist from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

For some people, adversity can be a tremendous source of inspiration. It is theorised that this is because the experience of adversity can alter our perspective on life and this change leads to enhanced creativity.

The results showed that conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience significantly related to the total PTG and most of the domains. – Psychotraumatology

The people most likely to thrive in adverse conditions are those who are agreeable, open to experience and consciencious. That brings up back to raising children who are conscientious and open to experience which we know is four times more important than intelligence for predicting academic success.

Adversity is an Education


If too much adversity can overwhelm our children, then why don’t we just save ourselves the trouble and become a snow plow parent?

I won’t pretend that all adversity is great. Neither am I suggesting that all children will walk away from it with a beautiful experience they will remember for the rest of their lives. No, it is not romantic as that. But children need to experience the challenges that life brings because they are opportunities for children to learn from. They are life’s lessons that no parent can teach through words alone.

I have often noticed that some precocious children seem less resilient than other children. I believe that this is because they glide through life so effortlessly that they never learn the value of the struggle. While other children face challenges early in life and learn from them, precocious children often don’t encounter the challenge until they are much older. By that time, they’re floundering because they have no experience with the struggle.

It may be the hardest thing in the world to see your child struggle. The best thing you can do is to let your child fail and be there to help them pick up the pieces. In the end, your love and emotional support in a difficult time can be the more valuable experience for your child.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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