Resiliency and Self-Efficacy

Originally Presented at Lower School Curriculum Night

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

My name is Nicole Girvan, and this is my fourth year as Head of Lower School and eleventh as a division director.  I shared this with my lower school families at our recent Curriculum Night and wanted it to be available for anyone who was unable to attend or for those in other divisions as it is relevant for every parent. 

Two years ago, I shared a Ted Talk about grit and the importance of perseverance by Angela Duckworth, and this year I want to briefly talk about the notion of independence, self-efficacy, and emotional intelligence. I recently viewed another Ted Talk given by Julie Lythcott-Haims about over-parenting. She does a remarkable job stressing the importance of allowing those teachable moments and life lessons for our children. She shares how important it is for parents to avoid defining their child’s worth by their grades. More importantly, Ms. Lythcott-Haims talks about how parents need to build self-efficacy in children.

The weekend of the Back to Prep Bash, my husband and I dropped off our oldest son at boarding school. In one of the orientation sessions, the school psychologist told us that our role as parents has shifted and it may cause discomfort. The gist of the presentation is that parents of middle and upper school students are moving away from being “managers” to more like “consultants.” When the kids are young, parents manage their schedules, including after-school activities and playdates and sometimes even the circle of friends. However, as the kids get older, they do not need (nor want) us to “manage” them, and thus the shift to the role of “consultant” begins.

As we drove home, I thought about the “manager” vs. “consultant” roles. I knew that I would need to work on this shift because a gradual release is the best thing for any child. But, in my head, I was still ruminating on when this might happen. More importantly, I asked myself whether my husband and I cultivated an environment and foundation for our son to be self-aware and emotionally intelligent, particularly in situations where change and challenges are inevitable.

The only thing we can do is hope….hope our son is prepared.

In the Washington Post, there was an article on parenting: Grit is the buzzword among parents today. But are we focusing on the wrong thing? Is “grit” enough? The article cited a study by Yale researchers that tested grit vs. emotion regulation. They found that kids who have learned the skill of emotional self-regulation are more likely to be successful than those who are only “gritty.”

This reminds me of when my mom, my sisters, and I decided to drive cross-country to Colorado where I was going to attend college. We had a wonderful time laughing, exploring, and talking. It came to an abrupt end when we arrived on campus. My mom is an extremely efficient woman, and she was on a mission to unpack our car in record time. My sisters helped carry loads of items in, and as soon as the car was empty, I thought we would all go to dinner before my exciting (and overwhelming) adventure began. To my horror, my mother told my sisters to hug me before they hopped into the car. I thought, oh…this is my cue to hop in, too. Just as I opened the door, my mom came over, gave me a gigantic hug, and said, “Love you….have fun…study hard, and make great friends!”

The next thing I know, I see my mom waving out the window as the car sped away. The shock and loneliness I felt at that moment are indescribable. This was the moment I realized this was it…it’s just me, and I have to figure it out.

Four years later, my mom and I remembered that day, and she told me she left me that way for two reasons. First, she knew it was the time I tackled the world on my own. Second, she said if she had stayed a moment longer, she would have broken down in tears. She was afraid she wouldn’t ever let me go. What a poignant moment for any parent.

I share this with you hoping we can continue to create opportunities for our students to come to school and make a mistake — or two, or three, or even more. Resiliency and self-efficacy are foundations for success. Let’s make it our goal to allow each child to learn from these experiences.


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