Category: Syndrome Y

Do Your Kids Have “Grit?”

This is an important question to ask, especially at this time. Parents are asking questions about how to help their children become successful. They have tried enrolling them in many activities. They have provided them a great deal of help and support. They have constantly cheered them on. The question that Dr. Angela Duckworth asked in her research is, “Does Grit have anything to do with success?” She describes her research in her book titled Grit.

The results of her research were clear. Higher amounts of grit were associated with higher degrees of success. This was true in athletics, in academic pursuits and in careers. Grit, which she defined as perseverance and the ability to keep trying, had more impact on success than intelligence and social skills.

Grit, then, is clearly an important characteristic to foster in our children, and in fact, in ourselves. It does fly in the face of some parenting practices that emphasize having everyone being rewarded equally and where success is guaranteed in all tasks attempted. Grit focuses less on success without effort and instead focuses on the value of effort.

I have looked at children in my practice for a long time and I have noticed that the ones who have the most grit are ones who often have faced great difficulty. I remember one little girl who had significant, ongoing medical problems. To treat her condition, the doctors had to carefully monitor her health. Unfortunately, this included having frequent spinal taps. I saw her one day, before she was scheduled for a spinal tap. I expected to see a frightened child, complaining about having to have these tests. Instead, she came in with great composure and assured me that a spinal tap really wasn’t that bad because it didn’t last too long!  She said she had had to go through worse. My next patient came because he was going to have a shot and was totally disconcerted about it. He was in tears. He was yelling and complaining. He was refusing to go because he was sure it would be painful. The contrast in these two young people was amazing. She had incredible emotional strength as a result of her life experiences. He didn’t.  Who do you see as having grit, of being able to face whatever life presented?

I have been seeing a huge influx of boys in my practice who seem to lack emotional strength. Any kind of challenge, regardless of how minor it is, can defeat them. They stay home, usually protected and rescued by well-meaning parents. I have called them “Syndrome Y®” because of the group of characteristics they show. They have no motivation, no passion. They are the underachievers in school even though they are bright and capable. They do not have grit. I have described this in detail in other blogs. If you think your son may have these characteristics, you may want to consider working to increase his emotional strength. My book, The Syndrome Y Solution: Emotional Strength Building for Your Underperforming, Unmotivated and Underachieving Son, is designed to help parents build emotional strength and grit in their sons.

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The Dogsled Theory of Self-Confidence

That is not a misprint or an exaggeration! Helping your child develop a healthy self -confidence has a great deal to do with dog-sledding. One of the most grueling races in dog-sledding is the Iditarod, a race across the tundra that is almost 1200 miles long. I wanted to know how the dogs were trained to run that race and in the process I learned something about self-confidence.

We live in a time where people believe that just giving praise or positive reinforcement (whether really deserved or not) will help children develop healthy self-confidence.  This is the source of the “participation trophy” idea. It doesn’t work. Hollow praise does not build self-confidence or self worth.

The training for the puppies includes having them try to get over a log, over and over again. Then they had to walk out of the river, over uneven ground and they did this over and over. I asked the reason why because none of this seemed to relate to the dogsled race.

The trainer told me something very important. He said that he wanted his dogs to believe that there was nothing they could not get through, nothing they could not face. That is what is real self-confidence. It’s not a reward for just showing up. It is the confidence that comes from experience. From trying over and over again and sometimes failing. Then, from getting up and doing it again until you are emotionally strong enough to face what life has in store for you. That is self-confidence.

Development of self-confidence in this way is particularly important for boys.  They cannot achieve it in any other way.

What should a parent do?  You need to make sure your son has life experiences that allow him to:

  • Try himself against circumstances without your rescuing. You can think about these like logs that he needs to overcome
  • Overcome daily challenges without your help.

I had an opportunity to ride on a dogsled with a driver who had competed in the Iditarod.  He told me that as a result of that experience, he had learned to handle his life the same way. He learned to believe that he could handle circumstances, and also learned to take them one at a time. One log at a time. He learned not to be overwhelmed by many problems, but to tackle one at a time, just like he did on the trail. He learned not to worry about what was not happening, just to focus on overcoming one obstacle at a time.

Self-confidence is a result of experience, of trying things, of failing and then succeeding.

Syndrome Y®

“He doesn’t do homework!!” That’s what I hear so often from frustrated parents.  They tell me their son’s are bright, and have had success in school in elementary grades. But now, in middle school or high school, the potential that you saw in him is missing. You have become totally frustrated with his lack of effort and his lack of passion. You have tried everything to try to get him motivated. You have threatened, promised, negotiated with and punished, but none of these have been successful. Your son may have Syndrome Y®.

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I have identified a group of young men (and young adults) who show the characteristics of Syndrome Y®.  They are bright and academically capable but do no homework. Their lives are occupied by video games. Their outside interests are very limited. They have few goals and no motivation. Nothing seems to work to get them moving along the road to independence.

There are five characteristics that I have found with these young men:

  • They use Avoidance as their primary problem solving strategy.
  • They dislike having any Demands made on them. If it is not on their agenda, it doesn’t get done.
  • They become Dependent.
  • They need Immediate Gratification.
  • They have problems with the appropriate expression of Anger. They get very angry and difficult at home, but are passive and not assertive in other settings.

These young men’s symptoms are frustrating for parents and school personnel. Traditional methods don’t work.  Reward and punishment are ineffective. Often, these young men disrupt home life.

Some young men show mild symptoms, but others are significantly impaired. Many, as they grow into young adulthood are unable to leave home, don’t work and often fail at college attempts.  Some manage to avoid life’s challenges by using drugs or alcohol.  It is such a waste of the lives of these talented and engaging young men.

The treatment is to realize that these young men have some fundamental anxiety, but more importantly, they lack emotional strength. They often have the knowledge that is necessary, but not the emotional strength. They have not (because of their avoidance) had the opportunity to learn how to face challenges, how to build up their emotional fortitude in small ways over time. Instead, many have been rescued, “helped,” or indulged so they can be happy. It is just like physical strength. If you don’t use it, you get weaker. These young men have not used their emotional strength and just when they need it the most, just when life expects them to begin to function independently, they just don’t have the strength.

What is a parent to do?  The reason your previous attempts haven’t worked is because you have not addressed the underlying problem, the lack of emotional strength.  Decide today to begin on an emotional strength building program for your son.  It is a long term process, but it is the only way he will be able to function independently in our world.  You will be able to read more about this program.  I have outlined it in detail in my book, The Syndrome Y Solution:  Emotional Strength Building for your Underperforming, Unmotivated, Underachieving Son. The book will be available in January 2017.

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The first step is to change your mindset. Your goal is not to make your son “happy,” your goal is to make him strong.  Start today watching yourself, finding the times that you rescue or help him out.  Step back and let him function himself.  Start with SMALL Steps.  Remember, this is like physical strength, and he will not be able to bench press 500 pounds with one trip to the gym.  It is far better to step back in small ways and let him begin to develop his emotional strength.

Here are a few ideas.

  • Make him order his own meal if you go out for dinner.
  • Don’t get his things ready for him for school or if he is going somewhere
  • Don’t get snacks for him. Let him get them himself.
  • Let him go in and buy the extra gallon of milk you need.

He is perfectly capable of doing all of these things. He just doesn’t want to. Be ready.  He will not be happy with this plan.  But, it is the only way for him to begin to develop emotional strength.