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Snowplough parents - why what you think is best for your child isn't best for your child or anyone else's 

Snowplough parents - Clearing everything out of the way of your child in order to support them and ensure their self esteem. "There are parents who have such high aspirations that they are frightened of an occasion when their child may come second", Clarissa Farr, headmistress of St Paul’s girls’ school in London is said to have told a workshop at the Girls’ Schools Association conference last week. (Thank you Guardian.)

But does it help? If you've never experienced failure or loss how do you cope with it? Our first big crisis, our first loss - death of a pet or grandparent, break up with a boy/girlfriend, - our first crushing failure all shape us.
What do you do when you've made a big mistake? Or when something really hurts you? It's not theoretical. It's visceral, emotional. It's a soft skill (as well as a set of strategies) we learn through application and experience. What happens when you are no longer first and best? What does being superior mean? Without the experience and the practice we end up with a lack of empathy, lack of community, lack of social interest. Narrow minded individuals who are fine when all goes well but hopeless when it goes badly. There are behaviours and responses we would tolerate in toddlers, ten year olds and perhaps even adolescents that are unacceptable and even dangerous in twenty and thirty something's.

So why don't we put away the snowploughs and teach the young people around us to join together with a shovel and our bare hands and work together. Even let ourselves fall on our backsides once in a while. Build character through experience. It will do us, individually and collectively, more good in the long run.

Run with those better than you

Seek out those who are better than you at things you want to improve.
It will inspire you and make you work harder and do better. You will be pulled willingly out of your comfort zone. You will succeed as part of a group (even if it's not really a formal team).
I did this for my latest half marathon - the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Set a stretching target. Ran with a much faster group. Surprised myself how fast I could actually run. 1 hour 47 minutes 40 seconds and about 3081st of 16000. (I'm happy with that.)
Simply running comfortably with people as good as me didn't make me any better. Running with people faster than me made me much better.
Run with the right herd if you want to succeed.

Overcoming fear of failure and procrastination

There are times when I just can't face something. A report, an email, a phone call, a project. I think it will go badly. I question my ability to do it. So I avoid it. Delay it. Anything to avoid the inevitable evidence I'm a fraud and not worth it. Anything to avoid failing.

But here's a surprise. Once I get started, it usually goes quite well. Sometimes very well. Because no matter what I challenge myself with I usually have the capability to do it. Sometimes it means asking for help. Sometimes it means being honest and saying I've done my best and know it's not perfect. Sometimes it means doing it a few times and practicing inbetween to get better.

It's the fear you see.

I'm not stupid. I have the evidence to show I'm not stupid. Other people know I'm not stupid but I still get the fear.

And I know there is only one way to overcome it. To face it. To start whatever I think I can't do. To achieve that very first step whether it's the first three paragraphs of the report or drafting the key points of an email or phone call on pen and paper. To reinforce I can at least start it. To remember the times I thought I couldn't do something but did it and got great positive feedback.

And each time I do this I end up with another success to put in the bank for next time. To remind me I can.

The fear will never go away. I won't always feel like challenging it but I know how to fight it and I know that I'll win.

Which reminds me, I've got something to start.



Louis Van Gaal brings ability belief and character back to Manchester United

What happens when you don't believe in yourself? When you're just off the pace compared to others? When the never say die spirit is, well, dead?

Whatever happens in the Premier League this season, Louis Van Gaal (LVG) has brought ability, belief and character back to Manchester United on their pre-season tour in the United States.

Luke Shaw played for England in the World Cup but isn't fit enough to play in this team - so he has to get fitter and do what he's told. And he does just that.  

The players believe they can win and do win. No more of the 'other team are favourites'. We might not be 'good enough yet' but we are good and we will get better. The players go out representing the club knowing they can be champions and act like it.

They show the character to keep going. Three nil up and they keep powering forward to win by seven. One nil down and they reflect and turn it around - bye bye Liverpool. The players take the feedback and grow from it. They do what's right even if it's not easy.

Contribute to the team or go and play somewhere else. Hold your head up and know we will win. Keep going, change things round, fight through to the last minute and keep going.

The ability to do something, the belief you can do it, the character to get it done. Simple as ABC. But oh so important and what makes the difference whether you're the biggest football club in the world or a kid from East London.

Thanks Louis for showing the way.


What is social mobility?

I have a better education than my parents, a much better job and live in a more affluent location. So I guess I was  a beneficiary of social mobility. But what of today's generation? How easy is it to do better?

Last night I attended the Lord Mayor's Charity Leadership Programme Social Mobility Debate. 

In some ways there are more opportunities for social mobility, in many ways less. Education is better but far more competitive. I got to a top ten university without an A grade and amongst only one fifth of my peers who went to university in the 1980s. It took a while but through experience and hard work I developed a consultancy business, earn a good living, got a PhD and have spoken, on invitation, at international conferences. 

But I don't think that journey would be as possible for someone like me today. There are too many people chasing the same dream, fighting for the A grade. That bright, but painfully shy unconfident young person lacking grit would fall at the first hurdle and not be picked up.

Social mobility today requires us to see, take and stick with opportunities otherwise we will fall by the wayside completely. Yet the more we have overprotected our children and reserved confidence building and character building for a too select few, the harder it is for the remainder to spot, seize and follow through when that vital possibility or opportunity comes their way.

Without the right skills and drive, without self belief, without the self regulation to see through adversity, all the opportunities in the world will be meaningless and the shy, brittle teenagers of today will go sideways or backwards.

There is a solution. In addition to the right opportunities we need to level the playing field. Promote and develop confidence, encourage resilience through experience, teach the skills which make us enterprising but also play to our inherent passions and personalities. Promote and develop this for as many children as possible. Otherwise, the divide will get bigger and the poorer, disadvantaged kids might as well not bother.

Time for something new to emerge.

Dr Simon Davey, Director, Emerging Scholars www.esipforest.org.uk

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