Helping Children Succeed

By Gary Kirk of Kirk Montoute Dawson LLP posted in Family Law on Sunday, September 8, 2013.

It’s widely acknowledged among therapists and family law practitioners that children of divorce are at greater risk of poor outcomes later in life, especially when their parents are engaged in a high level of conflict. Statistically, children who are exposed to conflict between their parents are more likely to become involved in the youth criminal justice system, engage in substance abuse, have children while still in their teens, drop out of school or fail to graduate from college and earn less income throughout their lives. Conscientious members of the legal system will focus their efforts on finding solutions that are focused on positive outcomes for children rather than a “scorched earth” win at all costs approach. The litigation process which by its nature forces the parties into an adversarial posture is rarely helpful, notwithstanding the sincere efforts of the judges who oversee this process to reduce the negative impact on children. Mediation and arbitration, while useful in most family law files, are less successful when one or both parties insist on a confrontational, high conflict approach.

A tremendous amount of academic research including analysis of both failed and successful educational methods has been generated over the last several decades. As a practical matter, few parents, educators and others involved in raising children have the time to wade through this material and devise new strategies. Fortunately, this task has been largely accomplished in Paul Tough’s thoughtful, comprehensive and very readable book, How Children Succeed. Tough focuses on the difficulties encountered by children who suffer traumatic events early in life (high conflict or absentee parents fall into this category) and how the negative consequences can be effectively addressed. Tough convincingly makes the case that development of internal skills such as perseverance, curiosity, optimism and self-control – described collectively as “character” – assist children in overcoming trauma and lead to success in all areas of life. Factors traditionally considered important like IQ scores or socio-economic background appear less relevant to positive outcomes. Having established these points, Tough devotes most of his book to describing the “how-to” elements that parents and educators can use to teach and help children succeed, notwithstanding early trauma. This book is recommended for anyone but especially to separating or divorced parents and those who deal with children in the family law system.

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