Helping Children Succeed

What Works and Why

by Paul Tough

Number of pages: 144

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company

BBB Library: Education, Parenting

ISBN: 9780544935280

About the Author

Paul Tough is a Canadian-American writer and broadcaster. He is perhaps best known for authoring the works Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America and How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.


Editorial Review

Educators across the country are intimately familiar with the struggles of children experiencing adversity, as are social workers, mentors, pediatricians, and parents. If you work with kids who are growing up in poverty or other adverse circumstances, you know that they can be difficult for teachers and other professionals to reach, hard to motivate, hard to calm down, and hard to connect with. Many educators have been able to overcome these barriers (with some of their students, at least). But we’ve spoken with hundreds more in recent years, who feel burned out by, even desperate over, the frustrations of their work.

Book Reviews

Tough is adept at translating academic jargon into precise, accessible prose. “Helping Children Succeed” employs the standard heroic narrative of progress in the sciences — social, cognitive, neuro- and more.

Straightforward advice on how to help children overcome adversity at home and in school.

I encourage you to read this book this summer with your colleagues and discuss it this fall when you return to school. Helping Children Learn is an important book for all of us who are working for equity and social justice in schools today.

This book is compelling reading. It’s a short book, but it’s packed with research-based ideas, illustrative examples, and general food for thought. It’s beautifully written, logically argued and deeply felt.

Mr. Tough proceeds to offer extensive data in 23 areas that identify the challenges in meeting these needs and providing support to meet these challenges.

Books on Related Topics

Wisdom to Share

A group of factors often referred to as non-cognitive or “soft” skills play a role in the challenges poor children face and the strategies that might help them succeed.

Because non-cognitive qualities are often described, with some accuracy, as skills, educators eager to develop these qualities in their students quite naturally tend to treat them like the skills that we already know how to teach.

Could the teaching paradigm be the wrong one to use when it comes to helping young people develop non-cognitive strengths?

And there is growing evidence that even in middle and high school, children’s non-cognitive capacities are primarily a reflection of the environments in which they are embedded, including, centrally, their school environment.

The primary mechanism through which children’s environments affect their development is stress.

Adversity, especially in early childhood, has a powerful effect on the development of the intricate stress-response network within each of us that links together the brain, the immune system, and the endocrine system.

Even more ominously, stress can affect brain development.

On a cognitive level, growing up in a chaotic and unstable environment disrupts the development of a set of skills, controlled by the prefrontal cortex, known as executive functions.

When a child’s executive functions aren’t fully developed, those school days, with their complicated directions and constant distractions, become a never-ending exercise in frustration.

The first and most essential environment where children develop their emotional, psychological, and cognitive capacities is the home—and, more specifically, the family.

If we want to improve a child’s grit or resilience or self-control, it turns out that the place to begin is not with the child himself. What we need to change first, it seems, is his environment.

We want students in middle school and high school to be able to persevere, to be resilient, and to be tenacious when faced with obstacles—but we don’t often stop to consider the deep roots of those skills, the steps that every child must take, developmentally, to get there.

If we want students to act in ways that will maximize their future opportunities—to persevere through challenges, to delay gratification, to control their impulses—we need to consider what might motivate them to take those difficult steps.