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Want to help your child develop tenacity? Consider immersion education.

by Meghan VanLente

As a parent, I want my kids to be both happy and successful – most parents would probably agree with me that they want that for their kids too. But I have found that the practice of having happy and successful children is much more difficult than the lofty ideal.

My kids aren’t always happy no matter what I do – my 5 and 9 year old seem to be more often arguing than happily playing, and they often can’t experience success at the moment they want it. My 5 year old wants to climb the tree that my 9 year old can – but the 5 year old just can’t. I don’t want to explain that to the emergency room doctor. And my 9 year old doesn’t have the skills yet for his own pocket knife – again another example of trying to avoid an ER visit

So, I’ve wondered – if I can’t secure their happiness and success at this stage, will I ever be able to? And the answer that I have come to (from talking to some wise people in my life, reading some good books, and experiencing life as middle school teacher), is NO – that I probably can’t ever “create” happiness and success for my kids all th time – no matter how many times I say “yes,” how much money I spend on trips and toys, or how well I orchestrate their playdates.

That realization has brought me some relief. I am not solely responsible for my children’s happiness or success (nor should I hold that responsibility for my husband, my kids’ teachers, friends, or our pastor). But we (as parents, teachers, and friends of our children) are not off the hook. Because I do think that I we have a responsibility to teach those life-skills that can lead to our children becoming those kind of individuals who live contente
and productive lives.

As I have looked at character traits that build the kind of end result I want to see in my kids, a few have stood out that specifically speak to my choice to put my kids in a Spanish immersion program. One that sticks out to me is TENACITY.

At a very young age, each of my kids got thrown into a room with a bunch of other 4 year olds and a teacher who started speaking to them in a language they didn’t understand. And she kept doing all sorts of singing, dancing, acting, pointing, modeling, and repeating in that language while the kids kept up a guessing game – trying to figure out what in the world she was trying to say. But amazingly, after months of hard work on the part of both child and teacher, my preschooler is coming home explaining words in Spanish to ME – ones he figured out at school.

“Mas means more, Mom,” he confided to me the other day. “How do you know?” I asked. “Because,” he replied, “when we say that, our teacher does our favorite color song again – the one where she’s a little crazy and the song makes us laugh.”kids-only

I love that the experience isn’t arduous – not overly difficult – but it takes tenacity – the ability to keep going in the face of difficulty – to do it. That character trait shows up all throughout the language immersion experience and develops the character to push forward in the face of challenge, rather than backing down.

I’m thankful for immersion teachers who don’t give up when the kids don’t get it right away, and for the opportunity for my kids to develop the character trait of tenacity – persevering, trying to think, to speak, to grow, to learn – in a second language.

Of course tenacity can be learned in many venues – but immersion education is a specific way that I can help my children, not to be happy or necessarily successful today, but to develop the character to recognize that challenges aren’t excuses for unhappiness and that difficulty is a stepping stone for success, not a reason for failing.


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