‘Teach children to be tough’

Children should be taught mental toughness to improve their exam performance, behaviour and aspirations, say academics.

Peter Clough, head of psychology at the University of Hull, says that mentally tough children are less likely to be deterred by failure.

Mental toughness can be taught, says Dr Clough, who is working on the study with AQR, a psychometric-testing company.

Dr Clough explains: ‘We know that students with higher levels of mental toughness perform better in exams. They are also less likely to perceive themselves as being bullied and are more likely to behave more positively.

‘We also know that … we can increase an individual’s level of mental toughness.’

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Country Life’s Manifesto 2008 stated that we should give children more freedom, and teach them the value of risk.

Dr Clough’s study involves 181 pupils, aged 11 and 12, from All Saints Catholic High School in Knowsley, Merseyside.

A questionnaire was used to assess pupils’ levels of emotional sensitivity, with the lowest-scoring 40 pupils then taught anxiety control techniques and the importance of relaxing and setting goals.

‘Really concentrating,’ says Dr Clough, ‘is a skill a lot of them have never had. They don’t recognise that people who are successful sometimes have less ability but more drive.

‘They are drawn to a ‘shortcut culture’ of instant success and dream of winning The X Factor, but don’t see that you need to practise before auditions.’

Dr Clough dismisses the idea of ‘happiness lessons’ that are meant to boost self-esteem, saying: ‘All the positive thinking in the world isn’t going to make a third look like a 2:1.’ Dr Clough believes that mental toughness, on the other hand, will improve exam performance, behaviour and aspirations.

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