Principal's Blog

Posted on May 04, 2021

How bolstering can help your child aim higher and do better

Dr Nancy Hillier

We’ve all heard the term ‘helicopter parents’, and the theory that this creates children who are too coddled, and lacking in resilience.

That’s not what we see at Pittwater House.

Every day we see parents intentionally resist the temptation to swoop in to rescue their child from difficult situations.

And every week we have conversations with parents about how best to build their child’s resilience by letting them solve their own problems.

Persistence is more important than talent

Thanks in part to our Positive Education programs at Pittwater House, most of our school parents are aware of the latest research on success: that character, not cognitive ability, is the single most reliable determinant of whether a person will succeed in reaching their goals.

As child development expert Michael Grose writes, “The key character
traits of grit, self-control and conscientiousness are forged under hardship and duress….It’s critical that we challenge children and young people to attempt activities where failure is a significant option.”

Persistence is built on support

Yet we also need to avoid going too far in the other direction.

Throwing your child in the deep end without a rope doesn’t build character either.

At Pittwater House, we know that children thrive when given challenges with support. That is, it’s our role as parents – and teachers – to guide, support and encourage children as they push themselves to try new things. We call it bolstering.

Laura Markham Ph.D. says, “when children fail over and over and
don't have the support to keep trying, all they learn is that they're failures.”

“Failure sets up a cycle of lack of confidence, giving up and more failure,” says Markham.

When our kids see that we’ve let them fail, they interpret it as not being loved.

This is a tricky line to tread for parents. When do you step in?

Tips for bolstering your child’s confidence and character

1. Set feasible challenges

Let’s use an example of baking a cake. If your child has never done this before, it’s unfair to hand over the recipe and ask them to whip up a tiered masterpiece.

Likewise, it’s unfair to hover over them with clenched teeth, ready to grab the cup out of their hand.

Rather, you give them difficult but achievable tasks. Crack the egg into a bowl. Shell fell in? Yolk spilled? Let them try again.

2. Let them know it’s ok to fail

Show them the world doesn’t end when they fail. Talk about the times that you failed. In every way, show them you love them for who they are, not how well they do a task.

3. Be there

Having you there to catch them gives children the confidence to try. If you can’t be there physically, let them know clearly that you’re there in spirit. Let them know you’re on their side and you’ve got their back.

4. Provide structure

Children are still learning to organise their thoughts, their time and their energy. Teach them how to structure a task, be it what to do first, or how to plan it, or how to pace themselves.

When you give your child opportunities to aim high yet fail safely, with support, they will have the confidence and courage to take on new challenges. They will have the inner resources to build true determination and grit - characteristics that are essential to success.