Recently my kids got a week-long party when their three boy cousins, ages 8, 7 and 7, came to stay with us from Tennessee, along with my sister and her husband. And I got to do my very own amateur behavioral case study from the sidelines, as the cousins played. My sister and I have often talked about how my daughter and her 8-year-old son have similar personalities—both are generally well-behaved and do well in school. They live for praise of their personal achievements and never pass up an opportunity to bask in any accolades that come their way. But these kids are also our emotional “melter-downers” when things don’t go their way, our knowers-of-all-things, our chanters of “Look at me! Again! Again!” even though you’ve already been encouraging their latest achievement for the past hour.
My sister’s 7-year-old twins, on the other hand, have struggled with reading for several years. But these same “struggling” boys are the ones who helped me bring in groceries and eagerly put things away, while the “smart” ones were off booby-trapping my daughter’s bedroom in case of intruders. The differences between these two types of children surfaced again later, when my husband asked the kids to help pick up apples that had fallen from our backyard tree. While the twins challenged themselves on how quickly they could fill their buckets, my daughter crawled around on her hands and knees, slowly reaching for one apple at a time and complaining that hip pain was preventing her from bending down to help (though minutes before she’d been playing on the swingset).
Of course, in early elementary school, learning to read is important, as it should be. But as I watched the struggling readers seek out ways to be helpful and I thought… it’s too bad that good citizen points can’t get you to the next grade. In just a few short years, that work ethic will be more important than they know and can serve them throughout school, in their careers as well as in relationships. I pray that by the time my nephews get there, their early struggles will not have dashed their hopes of what they can achieve.
I wouldn’t trade my daughter’s personality and natural gifts for anything, despite the challenging moments. But I guess I love the idea that someday it might all even out…. that the Smarty McSmartersons will stand alongside the hard workers, and the criteria will be more about what they do with what they’ve got, than how fast they were able to learn it.
Recently I wrote an article for Colorado Parent magazine called Raising a Leader. In light of these musings, it made me happy to learn many experts think true leaders are equally born and made, by parents willing to teach. Click here to read more: