Golden children vs. comeback kids

I hadn’t previously read any of KJ Dell’Antonia’s work, but her recent blog post, It is harder to raise the comeback kid than the golden child. And better, resonated with me. She shares specific advice without seeming (to me) too pedantic. And as a parent herself, she manages to speak from the parents’ side, acknowledging that it’s not always easy to embrace a child’s failure as a valuable opportunity to learn.

As she puts it:

“When failure turns into ‘not yet’ or ‘what’s next,’ you can help your child to start making her own magic. Will she get up the morning after her name isn’t on the roster for the basketball team, congratulate her friends, then go out and shoot hoops, and beg for the ride to the Y, and take every opportunity to show the coaches that next year, she’ll be ready? Or will he persuade the drama teacher to teach him how to run the light board in the school auditorium because he’s realized it’s the illusion, even more than the performances, that captivates him? Can she own her disappointment and make a plan, or turn her anger into determination? Can he try again, or set his sights—with excitement—on something else? The kid who can start again is the kid who is ready for the long game.”

I’ll just add one thing. Her article is pitched towards the majority of parents—those who don’t have what Dell’Antonia calls a “golden child,” the one “with all the gifts, who seems to sail through life so effortlessly, always in the front of the pack.” But some parents, including many who read this blog, are proud to have a golden child. And they should be. There’s nothing wrong with being a hard-working, high-achieving student who sets lofty goals and manages to achieve them.

But if you’ve got a golden child in the house, my recommendation is to praise the efforts rather than the achievements. Kids want to please their parents. And while it might be clear to you that your love and support is not dependent on straight A’s or other accolades, the message may be received very differently by the 16-year-old achiever.

The older these golden children get, the more challenges they take on, and the higher they reach, the more likely they’ll be to occasionally fall short. And I think Dell’Antonia’s message, which I agree with, is that, golden child or not, it’s the kids who learn how to come back from those setbacks who are most likely to consistently get what they want out of life.