Setting the Bar for Achievement: The Right Amount of Healthy Challenge

(Today’s post is the first in a series on helping your child reach their potential.)

“Vision is an inspiration to stand us in good stead in the drudgery of discipline.  The temptation is to despise the discipline.”

Oswald Chambers

Underachieving is widespread today among kids and becoming more so.  Why is it that so many children don’t achieve at their potential while others achieve beyond expectations?   The reasons vary widely and for most kids stuck in the cycle of underachieving, spring time only increases the issue.  Rare is the student who does not fight the desire to ease off and start a downhill slide when spring is in the air.

So how can you help your kids “keep the peddle to the metal” and finish the school year strong?  Most kids want to do well and dream of success.  Many even set high goals at the start of the school year but if they lack personal disciplines, their aspirations wind up as merely dreams and wishes. Kids (and many adults too) tend to view disciplined habits as a grind, yet without the “drudgery of discipline,” we quit growing and improving.  To improve and grow, kids need to be challenged and when they are not adequately challenged, they easily grow complacent.

Therefore, make sure to keep enough healthy challenges in your kid’s life, especially as they grow older.   If you are going to error in one direction, lean in the direction of over challenging them.  Little is gained in the way of personal disciplines when we are under challenged.  On the contrary, much can be lost because it is an invitation to be lazy; a hard habit to break.  Down the road your kids will be overwhelmed by the inability to meet challenges more than by having to over work from time to time.  (I am not advocating overdoing your child’s schedule but don’t fall for the trap of making their experience too easy.)

Basketball season just ended for our students at Veritas Academy.  I keep an eye on athletes who have chosen not to do a spring sport because experience tells me some will become complacent in the classroom as their schedule eases up.  From elementary school through college, my son Troy did better in school when he was participating in a sport. Undoubtedly the physical activity helped him focus but it also had to do with staying challenged.  When his schedule was too easy to manage, he managed it poorly.  When he had a bit more to do than he felt comfortable with, he managed far better.  The challenge produced the inspiration to stay focused.

So here is your “rule of thumb” when considering what to expect from your child:

  • Their workload needs to be a little harder than they think they can manage well. (They should feel a bit out of their “comfort zone” and over time what they are comfortable with should rise to a higher level.)
  • They need to be doing work that is a little tougher than they are comfortable with.
  • They need to have expectations in place that are a little out of reach.

And don’t listen to excuses!  Excuse making is a slippery slope that is hard to climb out of.  Kids don’t naturally like to struggle yet they need to learn how to struggle well if they are to grow.

Be especially wary of easing up on expectations during this final stretch of the school year when you are likely tired as well.  Summer time will soon be here and the rest to be found in this slower paced season is sweeter after a season of hard work.  Over the course of the year, kids need time for both work and play and the more they apply themselves to their work, the sweeter their free times will be.

There is joy and inspiration to be found in meeting challenges and important personal disciplines are developed in the process!


  1. This is so good. Thanks, Ellen! Once we are all through this flu we have, I want to have that phone appointment!!

  2. AMEN, Ellen…
    We thrive on that intensity here in our home (although it’s not with sports)! It starts ‘ramping-up’ for us in the spring. YAY for hard work!!

  3. Thank you Ellen! Now I have better understanding and perspective of why my wife was challenged as a kid 🙂

  4. Love this article for myself and my children! It is so true–I love seeing my own children as well as those I coach in the pool grow in their confidence after pushing through the natural inertia of laziness. The discomfort of getting in shape, or studying harder, or getting up earlier to have quiet time, or keeping on an exercise routine is so worth it when the confidence of exhibiting discipline as a character trait is realized! It is super rewarding to see this in children. Ellen, thanks for reminding us to keep expecting great things out of our children! KT

  5. Thanks, Ellen. This was a great reminder and a timely one!


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