Doctors will tell you pain is a good thing. A body without pain is a body in peril, unable to know when something is wrong and needs to be changed.
Athletes will also tell you pain is a good thing. Of course, ignoring pain can be a sure path to injury. But there's also something about pain to deepen one's resolve and push oneself higher/faster/further than imaginable.
Parents? We can be squeamish about pain. Even if we're not way out there in terms of helicoptering over our kids or steering them away from any possible discomfort, we can be uneasy about letting our kids endure pain, let alone inflict it on them ourselves.
But I think that in parenting, pain is a good thing. I believe this to be true in terms of behavior as well as academics. On the behavioral front, we had an incident earlier this month in which I was glad Aaron endured a little inner pain, because I felt that that was part of the lesson being learned. I had bought him a pack of Pokemon cards but told him he was not allowed to bring them to camp. But he disobeyed and snuck a card to camp to show a friend. And then he lost it. And then he lied about it to Amy. And then he was disconsolate.
Amy begged me not to blast him, so I held my tongue. But then he had the audacity to complain that Amy wasn't helping him look for it. So I started yelling, to voice my strong disapproval with this chain of events. And the disapproval pained him. And I was glad. And I even told him that it should hurt, because that is a sign of a good soul, one that can feel guilt and remorse and disappointment in self.
All things we parents try to avoid ourselves, and sure as heck don't like our kids feeling. Because it cuts like a knife. But sometimes, you have to let that knife cut be, and let that kid live in that pain for a minute. I wasn't about to twist the knife, but nor was I in any hurry to pull it out. Pain is part of learning the lesson.
Or take academics. Now that Aaron is heading to a much more academically rigorous school, I've been banging on him more on the reading, which he's way behind on. Specifically, bedtime now means having him read more stuff rather than having stuff read to him. Bedtime happens to be, obviously, the time when Aaron is at his tiredest. And so his frustration soon turns to despair.
Here's the part where the pain comes in, though. The natural reaction is to say, "Hey, good job...let's try again in the morning when you're fresher." Maybe that's the more merciful way to go. Maybe that's what the modern parent does.
But maybe, beyond not being good at reading and being tired at the end of a long day, Aaron hasn't had any practice at pushing past what's he currently capable of doing. We live in a culture in which we loathe correcting our kids, and will literally bend over backwards to find an alternative path when what they really need is correcting. Maybe what Aaron needs is to keep pushing, to know that the game isn't over just because he starts crying, but rather that there is often some game after that, in which he figures the word out and succeeds.
Moreover, the crying isn't just an unfortunate byproduct of this rigorous process. It's a demonstration to me that getting the reading right matters to him. It shows he cares. It shows he can feel disappointment. These are all unequivocally good characteristics. So rather than raising my voice and cracking the whip harder, or toning it down and telling him we could call it a day, I give him space to cry and tell him when he was ready we could have another go at the word he was stuck on. Sure enough, he eventually did get it, and he felt good that he could get there.
Aaron may or may not be naturally the brightest kid in the class like I was often at his age. I hope he will eventually be but am fine if he isn't. What I want for him, though, is to care about getting better, and to not quit just because stuff gets hard or failure is repeated. That, I think, is a very important thing to learn at this age. And the good pain is part of learning that.