Built To Last
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. –1 Peter 1:6–7
Preparing Our Kids for Life in the Classroom and Beyond
According to Keith McCurdy, a licensed counselor who has worked with thousands of families, our culture’s embrace of what he calls “therapeutic” parenting is having a devastating effect on our kids. The main goal of parents in the past, on a practical level, was sturdy kids who could be productive citizens. We know times have changed—just look back 100 years to what was expected of kids, and it is clear why “fragile” is an oft-used descriptor of youth today.
How might we see this in our schools? David Goodwin, ACCS president, was the head of school or a board member at a classical Christian school for over 30 years. He says two of the most common reasons students want to leave their school are variations of “I don’t have enough friends,” or “It’s too hard.” These concerns are common and can be legitimate. The problem is that, increasingly, parents lack the confidence to approach an upset child with alternatives to leaving.
If a child comes to us for help with relationships, workload, or anything else, how do we respond in a way that will make their character strong rather than fragile? It all depends on getting to the main root of our goals as a parent. In classical circles, we often refer to “ordering affections” — many goals and principles have value, the question is which has the highest value. Our decisions will flow from our highest affection, and it is imperative that we get our goals as a parent right.
Is there a substantial benefit to standing firm in requiring our kids to deal with difficult situations? McCurdy, it seems, would say yes. In this article, he cuts to the chase on the issues of struggling and frustration.
A Little Frustration Never Hurt Anybody By Keith McCurdy
Shouldn’t I do what I can to make my child happy? It seems like a simple question, yet it is one I often hear from parents. … It is easy to confuse the notion of meeting needs and keeping our child happy. Meeting needs is one thing—seeking to eliminate frustration in our child’s life is quite another. … When we take on the responsibility of making and keeping
our children happy, several negative messages begin to grow in our child’s mind.
• The first is that there is something wrong with being upset or having negative emotions. This mindset can cause great confusion and frustration in a child. Children will have negative emotions; this will never stop.
• When a child believes that these experiences are bad, yet continues to have them, they may begin to question themselves, even asking, “What is wrong with me?”
• Another, even more problematic, thought is that emotions are more important than they really are and that being happy is necessary in life. When a person believes this, yet has a period of prolonged negative emotion, it can be devastating.
Children who are never allowed to struggle have difficulty understanding that a person’s life can be just fine although they are not happy or satisfied in the moment. It is interesting that with the thousands of teenagers I have known over the years who struggled with suicidal thoughts, I can count on one hand the number that truly wanted to harm themselves. The majority wanted to end how they were feeling. They did not know how to function in a state of emotional discord and they misinterpreted their negative emotions to mean that their lives were no good or not worth living. They had given too much importance to their emotions and had not learned how to effectively solve problems.
In response to these children, our work is to help them understand that their emotions are not always accurate indicators of either who they are or the quality of their life. This is then followed with helping to equip them to handle difficult emotions, a lesson that needs to be taught earlier in life.
To teach this, it is vital that we allow our children to struggle, not always get what they want, hear “no,” be upset, cry, etc. Our goal is not to keep them happy, but to equip them to handle all of their emotions. A big part of that is realizing that the target is a sturdy child more than a happy child. Peace and contentment are more important than feeling happy.
It is not surprising that the book of James relates that we should be joyful when we struggle because this builds perseverance, which leads to maturity and wisdom. It is the act of learning to struggle well that is truly the engine of growth and maturity in the lives of our children. The challenge is to ask ourselves, are we truly equipping our children to deal with their emotions or are we just trying to keep them happy? In my experience, an equipped child will find more happiness.
It is a tough struggle to be counter-culture, but it is our job. Remember, we are not “of the world.” We don’t like being the “bad guys” as many put it when we have to step up and teach these lessons, but we will reap the rewards in the successful lives of our children.
Keith McCurdy is a family and parenting educator and consultant. He is the president and founder of Live Sturdy, LLC, and president and CEO of Total Life Counseling, Inc.
NOTE: This article is from the Classical Difference magazine Fall 2023 and is not intended to replace psychological counseling.