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The Self-Driven Child Offers an Alternative to Snowplow Parenting

The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud, offers both scientific reason and practical applications for giving young people not just a sense of control, but actual control over their lives

Emily Schorr-Lesnick, Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator

A mission-driven school cannot just support their students; it must support all students. In order to be effective, schools must also offer educational support to parents and families to build capacity and community around living out the school’s mission. When UPrep offered The Self-Driven Child, written by Dr. William Stixrud and Ned Johnson, as a summer reading option for faculty and staff, they were more intentionally linking the social emotional learning (SEL) frames we are integrating at school into potential practices at home.

The Self-Driven Child offers both scientific reason and practical applications for giving young people not just a sense of control, but actual control over their lives, starting the book with the assertion that “agency may be the one most important factor in human happiness and well-being.”  This agency leads people to feel empowered, even if the choices people have to make are relatively small. We need to make sure young people feel a sense of control.

The most impactful refrain in the book is the way this work starts with adults. Are we modeling what a non-anxious presence could look like? Are we regulating screen time screen team in children but not for ourselves? Are we advocating for sleep and down time, but not practicing that? Are we preaching independence but swooping in to control “higher stakes” assessments? These questions require some deep reflection and self-awareness on the part of adults. It’s on us to model the behavior and practices we hope to nurture in students.

In the recent New York Times op-ed by Claire Caine Miller on Snowplow Parenting, former Stanford Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims comments: “The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid.” Stixrud and Johnson pose vital questions as we strive to be a welcoming and safe learning community for all students: “Do our kids feel safe in school, physically and emotionally? Do they have a sense of control over what they’re doing in the classroom? Is it safe for them to make mistakes?”

This language of “safety,” though possibly vague, is vital to the kind of stress we can support students to work and learn and grow through versus the kind of stress that inhibits student learning because they are in intense survival mode. This is where a lens of equity and social justice can help contextualize the social frameworks that must be addressed in order to make our schools truly welcoming and inclusive. As Dr. Dena Simmons of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence says, “every child deserves an education that guarantees the safety to learn within their own skin.”

On Monday, April 29, University Prep and Northwest School are co-hosting an evening with author Dr. Bill Stixrud, in the Pumadome. This will be an opportunity to be in community with other parents, learn the science and sense of giving children control in their lives, and, if desired, purchase the book. You may RSVP here.

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