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How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. Post your questions to the author on the best ways to help your child lead a successful and fulfilling life. Q&A ANSWERS BACK

(42 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 18-Apr-13 11:28:40

Paul Tough's book, How Children's Succeed examines whether good performance in GCSE and A level really is the key to success in life. He traces the links between childhood stress, childhood cosseting, and life success and uncovers the surprising ways in which parents prepare or fail to prepare their children for adulthood.

Find out more about How Children Succeed. Post a question to him on this thread. The Q&A will be open until 10th May and we'll post up Paul's answers on 20 May.

jennybeadle Thu 18-Apr-13 18:15:42

You list optimism as a key factor. Is it possible to instill some in a child raised by two optimistic parents, who appears hell bent on pessimism?

YompingJo Thu 18-Apr-13 21:44:25

Hi Paul. Thank you for taking the time to chat to us.

I was affected a lot by the strictness and high expectations of my parents so this is a subject close to my heart. I am now the mother of a very alert, curious and observant 6 month old who loves attention and loves to "chat" to me about everything she sees, and I am keen to give her a more positive childhood than I had. In the absence of any time at all to read your book (although it is on my To Do list!), could you tell me what you think are the three most important things I should do at this early age to give her the best chance of succeeding in whatever she wants to do in life and being a confident adult?

Thank you!

Sapeke Fri 19-Apr-13 10:46:46

I'm the mother of 6 year old boy/girl twins. The experience of raising 2 children together has made me sceptical about the extent to which parents can really influence character. As babies my son screamed if held by anyone but me while his sister was bold and adventurous. She was proud of never crying when they were left at nursery school. Somehow without me even noticing at the time between 3 and 4 they have swapped personalities. He is now intensely curious about the world, has made friends at school while she is so shy she often cannot talk. If my parenting is to blame (and I do blame myself) how come they are so different?

Squarepebbles Fri 19-Apr-13 12:47:55

I'm a mother of 9 year old twin boys who are very different so I find this very interesting.

The 5 traits listed in the MN link pretty much sum up one of my boys who seems to do well at everything,gets sent on G&T courses,consistent As for achievement and 1s for effort etc.He s soooooo organised re schoolwork,likes to do everything properly etc.Not sure where we to him from.

His twin is the opposite for all 5 bar curiosity however in a lot of ways I think he actually has the edge regarding intelligence(he asks more searching questions,is more of a thinker etc). He however isn't so conscientious (daydreams,doodles if he doesn't see the point,moans about homework etc). Doesn't always do work that reflects his ability.

My question is how do you make chidren more conscientious and persevere more without making them miserable?Tips if it is possible would be most welcome.

woofiehil Fri 19-Apr-13 17:05:28

Hello Paul, I have read your excellent book - well worth your dropping out of college for! Thanks.

I have a 12 year old who we have finally agreed to put on Concerta (like Ritalin) for distraction and lack of concentration. We have been to 3 Ed Psych's, (suggested by the schools) four parenting courses, two school councillors and I have read virtually every book going. (I am obviously one of the Riverdale equivalents of course!). We have resisted the medication route, but having listened to the great ADHD Voices project decided to go for it. (The project features very moving real life experiences of kids on meds and is really worth listening to).

To our surprise this has dramatically changed his life. From the age of 2 he has been in minor middle class types of trouble and despite great scores on cognitive assessments, was very easily distracted, poor concentration, poor grades etc and though quite popular, very unhappy at the two schools he has been at. He has an explosive temper and a short fuse, so he was always in fights or in tears. All that has gone.

We are now two months in and from the first day he took it, the daily behaviour report he was on was spotless, (from being a catalogue of complaints); he can control his impulses, is never in fights, and is learning 'conscientiousness' and reaping the results. He has missed quite a bit of ground-building learning and still doesn't seem inclined to see getting good marks in exams as a worthy goal, but we are working on those! He is exactly his old fun, daft self and doesn't think he has changed at all, but is now really happy at school and finally feels 'in control' of himself.

I read your book and can see that we 'should' have been able to find a way to help him without the medication. We are not helicopter parents, though our parenting classes say we could be more consistent in our discipline, though of course other parents think he is the model of politeness! I feel we have tried very hard and perhaps a mixture of our own personalities or the combination of genes and environment have got us to where we are. But I can't feel that it was a bad decision - what do you think about medication in this sort of scenario?

woofiehil Fri 19-Apr-13 17:09:23

Hi squarepebbles - Thanks - I wrote the post below and am always encouraged when I see stories like yours. We have only one child, and there is a huge pressure to focus on what is 'wrong' with us and what is 'wrong' with him. Stories like yours always remind me it isn't as straight forward as outsiders make it out to be!

KathySeldon Fri 19-Apr-13 17:56:02

As a music teacher, I work with children from all kinds of backgrounds. I find that often, children from disadvantaged homes have little ambition, whereas more affluent children have high expectations for their future lives.
How important do you think instilling a sense of aspiration and ambition is to young children?
Thank you.

Squarepebbles Fri 19-Apr-13 19:28:11

Woolfie it is interesting isn't it.

My sister has twin boys too(5),hers are identical(mine are non identical) and she's experiencing the same thing.The confident keen one is already ahead and they only started in September.Genetically they're supposed to be the same but personality is definitely having an impact already.

I know I shouldn't complain as my dreamer is well behaved,shy and doing well but I absolutely know he isn't fulfilling his potential purely because of his personality.

It's scary how his twin excels,how driven he is.This Easter I made them write to their pen pals for an hour for an hour of screen time.Omg the difference.Swot boy made a list of bullet points first and in an hour(he set a stop watch wtaf blush)had written 1 and 1/2 sides of A4 word perfect. He then skipped merrily off.

Doodler boy- it was utter torture.Huffing,puffing for aaaaaages,no structure or paragraphs etc. He spent more time doodling hamsters and all manner of things in the margin.

I was near strangling him.

Do I step in(and how)that is the question?

Will definitely be getting the book.

Ghanagirl Fri 19-Apr-13 22:18:29

How do I improve my sons "resilience" he is almost 6 and in year 1 he has a twin sister, he loves school and has lots of friends but recently hisvteacher has said he gets reall wound up by his friends teasing, I've also noticed this at home when his twin sister teases him or critises his handwriting or drawing he flies into a rage.

amidaiwish Fri 19-Apr-13 23:32:58

I have a bright daughter (now age 9) who finds school easy. I worry she isn't learning to make mistakes, find things difficult and work through it. It's all coming to her too easily, she does things to the minimum (but sufficient for her teacher) and gets cross if i suggest she should do more, expand, extra etc... should i be worried about this or just be grateful that academically she'll be ok.

Squarepebbles Sat 20-Apr-13 11:29:26

Final question- would school choice have an impact on kids without the 5 attributes?

My dad and uncle were like my less motivated son and both got sent to highly selective grammar schools.Both became very successful in their fields.One is a medical scientist and the other very high up in the RAF,MBE the lot(dad had a difficult childhood).

Could being surrounded by high expectations,motivation,perseverance etc have an impact and change of attitudes?

Having to make this decision ourselves.Swot boy really wants to go to the grammar however would it be positive or neg for his twin?Would the expectations and ethos be a positive thing or could they make him miserable being very different to his personality traits?

Apologies if any of my questions don't have a lot to do with the book being discussed,haven't read it

andreasscalia Sat 20-Apr-13 19:41:46

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

YompingJo Sun 21-Apr-13 08:08:40

Reported. FFS!

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 22-Apr-13 12:38:23

The bookgiveaway is now closed. We'll email all those who have been allocated books as soon as we hear from the publisher that the books have been sent out. Do continue to send Qs to author, Paul Tough.

gazzalw Tue 23-Apr-13 12:46:19

Hi Paul,

this book looks fascinating!

We have a very bright and competitive but naturally lazy twelve year old son, although we are diligent, education-oriented parents. I think our own education histories prove the fact that hard work gets you a long way in life! He is however very single-minded when he chooses to be. He attends a super-selective grammar school (which he himself was keen to go to) but is still coasting. He did no revision at all for his Year 7 exams but has still managed to score average (to his school cohort) results of 65% in most of his exams. Of course we can see that if he put his mind to it, he would easily be up with the high-achievers but that he lets himself down thro' being lazy. Do we just back off and let him find his own way with his studies or do we change our approach? My head says that he has to find his own way and motivate himself but we are worried that he will not fulfill his potential if we take such an approach.

It is interesting that children from the same nuclear family can have such different educational and vocational outcomes in life. That surely must be more to do with nature than nurture? A friend comes from a family of three with one exceptionally academic sibling who picks up achievements with sheer hard work and determination (but hasn't really achieved anything career-wise), another who by the standards of the family achieved least academically but has probably done best vocation-wise, considering mediocre academic outcomes, of the three of them. The third was super-clever, went to Oxbridge, got a profession and is still in a very competitive career but hasn't really achieved the same level of success that one might have expected.

Oopla Wed 24-Apr-13 14:37:46

Oh GOOD question jennybeadle, watching with interest on that one!

I've been lucky enough to get a copy and will be reading and reviewing soon, many thanks MN smile

racingheart Thu 25-Apr-13 14:42:36

Squarepebbles, your posts are intriguing, as I have two who are so close to what you describe, I could have written your post. For years I was too soft on DS2 as he is so dreamy and vague and forgetful. He hates being pushed. But when it came to 11+ he had to be pushed (not hard - just one practise paper a week.) He did it, got into his first choice school and was over the moon. For the first time he saw that doing something you don't always enjoy at the time can make you feel fantastic long term. His self confidence has gone through the roof since he passed the exam.

Recently, we started running. He hated it - whinged, teary eyed, said he couldn't breathe, felt sick (within first 30 seconds of the run, so I wasn't concerned he was being overly pushed grin ) but we just kept him at it, kept saying, 'You hate it, I know, but we're seriously unfit and we need to get fit' until he realised that how ever dramatic he was being, the run would still take place.

By week two he was asking to go on runs. He's a sedentary gamer and dreamer by nature. I learned from 11+ that I just had to ignore his protests - not fight or cajole, or try to change his mind, but just not give in, keep him going. In the end he was as proud of himself and motivated as his self disciplined brother, who gets up, dressed, does 30 mins piano practise and all his homework before anyone else has even grunted and stuck the kettle on.

The interesting thing is, as he gets older, he's starting to see cause and effect - hard work means great results, effort means fitter - he was man of the match at rugby on Sunday for the first time in two years - he saw the link between running, getting fitter and being a better team player. I'm hoping he'll start making the connection without being prompted by us, in time. Will be really interested to read Tough's book.

The only difference I can see in their parenting (and it probably is pretty huge) is that DS2 was very poorly from birth and needed a lot of attention in order to survive, whereas DS1 was left to his own devices, and a lot was expected of him, because his brother was so needy. It did make me baby DS2, and make DS1 self reliant from the beginning. But in terms of love, support, attention since then, it's been as even as can be. They're just very different people. Sounds ott, but even in antenatal scans, DS1 would be waving and booting his feet around, whereas DS2 would be sucking his thumb, all tucked up.

Uzma01 Wed 08-May-13 14:20:22

I've been reading the book and have found it insightful. The different studies that have been conducted over the last few decades, especially the ones that include following up the progress of students years later, have come up with some interesting conclusions.

My children are still young yet, at 3 years and 18 months, but the information c

Uzma01 Wed 08-May-13 14:41:45

I've been reading the book and have found it insightful. The different studies that have been conducted over the last few decades, especially the ones that include following up the progress of students years later, have come up with some interesting conclusions.

I was alway quite self-motivated when it comes to studying; so I'll be waiting to see how my children fare with any activity they undertake - whether they need prodding to do things or are happy to get things done.

My children are still young yet, at 3 years and 18 months, but the information contained in the book should help us to steer our children towards different activities (academic or otherwise) so that they can get the most out of life.

katb1973 Wed 08-May-13 21:57:16

Thank you Mumsnet for my copy, it was an informative and interesting read. As the mother of a 4 and 6 year old I was hoping to find some practical advice on how to make sure they continue to live a life that is full and rewarding and achieve to their potential whatever that turns out to be. Many of the issues discussed and case studies presented were based on children from disadvantaged backgrounds. I found these highly interesting but was hoping for a more balanced view encompassing and giving advice across the class system.

My question to Paul is the following: How can I ensure that my children develop resilience (grit) and learn to handle failure constructively when at the moment they focus on activities and experiences they find easy and avoid those that they find more challenging? How much influence should a parent exert on their young children to make them face challenges they may otherwise avoid?

Sapeke Thu 09-May-13 12:03:50

I was delighted to receive a free copy and found it very interesting and well written. The first chapter in particular detailing attachment theory, which I was already aware of, made very thought provoking reading. It's impossible not to mentally review your own parenting style in the light of the research discussed. My comment above questioning how much parents can really influence character suddenly seemed ill-informed. As I read on however I realised that the book only seemed to be dealing with extremes of poverty and wealth and so I felt that my question still stood. By the time I'd finished I felt that I'd read a fascinating well-argued account of how to fix failing educational standards in deprived areas of America. The message that character is important and can be learned is a positive one but over all the book didn't feel particularly relevant to me or my family or even the UK education system. The blurb on my copy references GCSEs and A Levels which is a deliberate attempt to mislead the UK reader, an explanation of the US school system would have been more helpful.

J62 Thu 09-May-13 12:14:01

A really interesting book with lots of informative case studies!

My question is what three changes would you make to our early years/primary school system to help children succeed?

I am concerned that recent proposals such as increasing childcare ratios, and an inspection framework for primary which focuses on literacy and numeracy teaching, will not foster the development of the key personality traits you describe.

Firewall Thu 09-May-13 22:53:22

Hi, unfortunately I missed this book giveaway which sounds fascinating and perhaps goes close to one of my main parenting worries. So haven't read the book.

Personally, looking back at my own childhood, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to do extra-curricular sport/music. I remember from a very young age throughout my whole school 'career' putting pressure on myself to achieve in everything I lay my hands at. Definitely pressure to do well my self. From this I achieved top grades in all GCSEs and A levels, through to degree level which has helped to put me where I am in life, but looking back I don't think I had much time to 'not worry much' through my teens.

Through my experiences, I am now trying to discover how I try not to repeat this with my own children. (Or if i naturally have a very conscientious/anxious child how to relax them!)Is there a happy medium? How does your child have a 'childhood' throughout school whilst still achieving? And not worrying themselves about their academic achievements to a stressful level? How does a child succeed with minimal stress!

And is it a good idea when parents start their kids on music lessons/sport lessons or encourage writing from a pre-school age? Or does this encourage 'stress'? I think there's pressure when you see many parents starting their children young with things and wondering if you should do the same yourself.

Thank you, sorry for all the questions.

thecatfromjapan Thu 16-May-13 12:11:34

Hello. Many thanks for the book.

It surprised me! i was one of those expecting (another) "just add water, follow the instructions, et voila: a super-ambitious success of your very own!"

I preferred your book to the one I thought I was getting. <smile>

I'm going to ask a question that is really just a prompt to get you to talk about yourself and your motivations for writing this:

It seemed to me your book was premissed on the idea of a super-capitalist society - which cannot be changed - and education as (notionally) a public good. There are lots of "losers". We should turn the "loser" children into "winners" via ... something ... delivered through "education" (in some way).

I had some very long-winded questions about this (and as an ancient old leftie, quite a few questions and objections ...) but I want to keep it short. So:

Why should we care about these "losers"? Why do you care?

That's the main question (or questions!)

But if you feel like it: Is it putting a sticking plaster on a mortal injury to try this "just fix the 'loser' mentality" approach?

You may be bored witless of answering what is probably a v. boring, biographical question - and it may be not what you want to be talking about in relation to this book - but I am kind of interested in your answer.

I thought your book was very interesting, thought-provoking, and accessibly written. Thank you.

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