How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough (Sept., 2012)

children succeed

I listened to this audio book a month ago, so I’m less able now to recount accurately all of Tough’s arguments or his evidence. But I don’t feel so bad about that lapse of memory after seeing on Amazon a “cheat sheet” book you can buy that condenses his arguments and most important case studies into a 30-minute summary. Obviously, a) there is enough evidence presented in Tough’s book to warrant a summary; and b) the evidence he presents is compelling enough, and enough people want to know what he has to say, to justify the publication of a summary. Which is all to say: read this book. It’s important. It’s extremely interesting. And it will likely propel you to change not just your assumptions, but your actions, if you are in any way associated with the lives of children. I began treating my teenage daughter a bit differently after listening to this book. She is a smart, witty, compassionate girl with a whopping dollop of ADD thrown into her glorious mix of character traits. So being a parent who gracefully lets go of the supports I have provided since birth, now that she is growing up . . . that’s not really me. But after listening to Tough’s book, I’ve had to at least try to get a little “tough” on myself, and on my child, by allowing for more possibility of failure. Or, at least, natural consequences. It’s one of the most powerful ways we learn, if we have nurturing people around us who help us learn how to manage our failures. That’s the key: we don’t just fall on our faces, but we learn, in relative safety, how to cope with it all. It’s a cliché to say it builds character. But it’s true. And the evidence in favor of character being more important that IQ in determining life “success”, is the stuff of this book. The seven traits Tough zeroes in on are: Grit, Curiosity, Self-control, Social intelligence, Zest, Optimism, and Gratitude. To build these traits, Tough advocates warm, calm, nurturing parenting early on, especially where there is poverty or other trauma. And parenting that allows some risk taking and challenge as children grow (this all may sound obvious, but Tough makes us see that we quite often do just the opposite). And he gives many examples of school and social programs that are working to tease out character building in a real, not just rhetorical way, in young people. My only two criticisms are that the examples he gives from the world of chess clubs dragged on a bit long – at least to my non-chess-playing self. And the reader for the audio version, while easy on the ears and entertaining in general, has the annoying habit of using the same odd voice when reading dialog attributed to a wide variety of people, both male and female. They were all soft spoken with a slightly southern drawl. Weird. But don’t let this deter you. I consider Tough’s book one of the most important I’ve read (listened to) in a long time.


About Cheryl McNeil
I am the User Services Librarian at the Orangeburg Library in Orangeburg, NY

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