Psychology: “How Children Succeed?” by Paul Tough


Education is meant to enhance one’s chances of succeeding in life by laying down the foundations based on the acquired skills. However, the experiences gained can be either beneficial or detrimental to school-going children and young adults. In this regard, an analysis of the factors that account for failure or success of a student is essential for creating an enabling environment that facilitates success by curtailing the inhibitors. The stakeholders in the learning process have a significant role to play towards the attainment of success or failure. In this regard, school principals, parents, and students have a bearing on the eventual outcomes of the learners as depicted by their failure or success habits. This paper will embark on a critical analysis of the book, How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough in comparison with other articles on the topic of children’s success based on different underlying factors.

Comparing and Contrasting the Article “How Children Succeed” and the video “How America’s Toughest Principal Fights for Her Students”.

Tough (2013) postulates various ideas on the factors that account for children’s success or failure in their educational endeavors. The disparities in achievement between children from rich and poor backgrounds necessitated the investigation into the various factors responsible for the trend in the American society. On the other hand, Liz Dozier, the Principal at Fenger Academy, depicts the roles the staff and students can play in shaping up success characters in spite of the factors attributed to their backgrounds. The following are similarities and differences based on the ideas of the individuals about the educational success of children.


Tough and Dozier insist on the need for children to observe self-control and prevent peer pressure-induced action. According to Tough (2013), disadvantaged children need to focus not only on their self-control but also on how to handle situations that have impacts on their behavior. Similarly, Dozier encourages her students to control their thought and actions to resist the urge for gang affiliation. This aspect stands out when she discourages students from engaging in street fights.

Furthermore, Tough (2013) insists on certain values including grit, perseverance, curiosity, self-regulation, conscientiousness, and optimism. These values are usually not taught in class, but children need to learn them to enhance their chances of succeeding. To transform the culture of Fenger Academy, Dozier encourages the children to adopt upright characters even outside the school by conditioning them to disregard gang-related conflicts. Thus, the skills required for successful children in their social development transcend what is taught in class.

The aspects of social intelligence and optimism have been underscored in both cases. Tough (2013) argues that early adversities in children’s life should not be the determinant of their success. On the contrary, optimism and social intelligence is the key to success. Dozier refutes the idea that children from the low-income neighborhoods in Chicago are poised to fail by commending the need for optimism for a better future. Both Tough and Dozier address the issue reflecting on the Chicago neighborhoods. Additionally, Dozier addresses the issue of racism that propagates the conflicts among students implying that they need to observe social intelligence in handling cultural diversity issues.


According to Tough (2013), the development of the non-cognitive skills is highly dependent on the environment in which a child grows. On the contrary, Dozier believes that her students from the low-income Chicago neighborhoods can acquire the skills just like any other students in the US. This assertion implies that the ideas of the two parties are incompatible concerning the development of non-cognitive skills.

Tough supports initiatives that grade the character performance of individual students at the school such as the KIPP Infinity program. The methodology of evaluating the children’s character that defines their success or failure transcends the traditional report cards as the non-cognitive aspects are measured (Tough, 2013). On the contrary, Dozier pursues the academic excellence of her students to beat the 73% graduation rate over four years and achieve the national average.

How Character is Built

The development of character is attributed to several factors within an individual’s environment. Tough (2013) contends that success among young people is correlated with their character development. In this view, character-building experiences in childhood and teenage phases determines the individual character and success at adulthood.

The attachment between the caregiver and the school-aged child is considered essential for character development at an early age. Tough (2013) reflects on an experiment conducted on stressed baby rats, which were licked and groomed by their mother. The response to the mother’s reaction resulted in an upright character that was carried along to adulthood. In this view, proper upbringing in times of adversity creates a resilient character. Attachment between a parent and a child as characterized by bonding results in the formation of characters like confidence and psychological strength, which affect what they engage in including academic performance.

The independence of a child facilitates the creation of character due to exposure to various challenges. Parents need to identify the period of transition towards their children’s independence to enable them find ways of approaching their problems. Tough (2013) notes that after 1 to 2 years, parents need to stop loving too much but maintain attention and support. Therefore, less parenting, as the child advances towards middle childhood and later into adolescence, evokes the need for the kids to fight their battles, thus resulting in their personal characters.

Non-cognitive skills are regarded by Tough (2013) as essential for cultivating a success-oriented character. Therefore, the development of characters like self-control, grit, curiosity, social intelligence, and optimism is not mainly based on the academic skills acquisition strategies, but character development strategies. Tough (2013) supports the importance of cognitive skills and IQ enhancement strategies through education programs; however, he insists that facilitators need to put equal efforts in cultivating characters like grit and self-control. However, he criticizes the bias on concentrating on academic scores at the expense of the character performance of the students. Therefore, a balance in the impartment of cognitive and non-cognitive skills is a vital contributor to the construction of a child’s character, thus determining their success or failure.

The embracement of failure is also accountable for the development of a success-driven character. Tough (2013) provides an example of a student who dropped out of university, thus depicting his failure in his academic engagements. However, he developed perseverance and grit traits, which resulting in taking more chances that defined his success. Therefore, a success-bound character is usually preceded by failure before one develops qualities that seek to overcome the hurdles encountered throughout life. The dropout felt the distress in his parents, which meant that he needed to innovate ways that justified his decision by attaining success. Parents are usually perceived to safeguard their children from making mistakes, which obstructs the formation of traits like resilience and confidence. In this view, children that are not experienced in failure are usually disadvantaged. Therefore, in most cases, the creation of success-oriented habits is slowed down.

Q-Q-T-P Analysis

The articles, “CSG’s State Pathways to Prosperity Initiative” and Child Poverty”, provide resources for conducting a Q-Q-T-P analysis of the determinants of children’s success on their economic background. In this view, the development of a question, quoting the articles, and generating a talking point enhances the evaluation of the issue regarding success among children.

What is the correlation between education and economic background to an individual’s success?

The two articles highlight the aspects of poverty based on the access to quality education among American children. The availability of work opportunities that have not been seized due to the lack of the required skills is a worrying factor that needs to be examined for the identification of suitable solutions. In 2012, it was estimated that 22% of children in the US were poor, thus accounting for the largest group affected by poverty in society. The implication of the poverty situation portrays the significance of a child’s background in shaping up his/her future. In this case, children from low-income families that only survive on a $64 budget in a day create challenging conditions for concentration in academics.

The issues associated with poverty at the community level further challenge authorities and agencies in empowering the individuals due to the lack of the necessary requirements for employment. A majority of the children from poverty-stricken neighborhoods have high chances of dropping out, engaging in gang-related activities, and deviance in general. Therefore, the prevailing conditions elicit the need to address the question whether education and economic background of a child play a role in their success.


The article, “CSG’s State Pathways to Prosperity Initiative”, gives an overview of the unemployment level in the American society as attributed to aspects of educational success or failure. “The connection between education and upward mobility is clear and powerful. Simply stated, people with more education have a better chance to become employed, earn a living, support a family, pay taxes, and contribute to the community in which they live.”

The CSG insists that the movement from one social class to another is attributed to an individual’s education. The skills acquired through education are perceived to increase an individual’s employment chances. Here, the factors for poverty among American communities are based on the economic conditions characterized by poverty. It is estimated that children raised from poor backgrounds from birth to the age of 2 years have a 30% chance of becoming poor as they grow to adulthood. At adulthood, the individuals from poor backgrounds find it hard to secure sources of livelihood in formal employment due to lack of skills attained through educational programs.

Talking Points

Despite the challenging environments characterized by low-income households, children in the dwellings can develop resilience through non-cognitive skills creation. In this case, the impoverished conditions are not the only determinants of a child’s success since various institutions including the family, schools, and religious centers can instill traits that enhance the children’s chances of succeeding in life. Characters like resilience, confidence, and commitment can be developed by the children as they adopt new survival techniques, which are in conformity with the social norms.

Parents play pivotal roles in the development of success-oriented characters in their children. This assertion implies that the family unit in an environment characterized by economic difficulty can defy the expectations that the child will be poor in the adulthood. Effective nurturing techniques foster a child’s ability to become aggressive and combat the challenges that they face in their surroundings.

Policymakers contribute to the educational success of the children in society. Constraints that prevent children from attaining success through firm educational foundations can be alleviated through the formulation of policies. In this view, the economic disparities between different social classes can be reduced through the equitable distribution of education facilities and teaching staff. Quality education programs at the childhood level can be initiated to help mitigate the educational success limitations.

The issue of child poverty affects the educational endeavors, which implies that one’s success is threatened. Various articles have been authored to discuss the issue of the education achievement of children from impoverished backgrounds. In this view, a comparison of the articles by the title “The impact of poverty on educational outcomes for children” by Ferguson, Bovaird, and Mueller and “Children and Poverty” by Lewit, Terman, and Behrman enhances the analysis and evaluation of the problem in a bid to solve it.

Ferguson, Bovaird, and Mueller explore the widening poverty rift between different social classes based on educational perspectives in the Canadian setting. The disparities are due to the disadvantages caused by persistent socioeconomic issues. The authors point out that family income has a direct correlation to the performance of the students at the school. On the other hand, Lewit, Terman, and Behrman discuss the detrimental impacts of poverty on the children’s success. The authors focus on aspects of deprivation and hardships on the prosperity or failure of the children.

Ferguson, Bovaird, and Mueller address the relationship between readiness for academic engagements and poverty. The authors echo that social and academic success of a child depicts the significance of the environment in which he/she grows with respect to success. Various factors are responsible for the readiness of a child for school that includes the incidence of poverty, the duration of poverty, the depth of poverty, community characteristics, the timing of poverty, and the effects of poverty on the child’s social network. In this regard, children brought up in economically unstable families are less stimulated to learn non-cognitive skills required for sound character development. The lack of readiness is due to the absence of competencies and characters that drive children towards their commitment to academic endeavors.

Similarly, the article “Children and Poverty” illustrates the implications of poverty in the readiness and commitment in educational activities. The Canadian families that experience temporary or chronic hardships mainly concentrate on the provision of necessities like food, thus disregarding the essence of educational success. Thus, the depth of poverty among the families creates an attitude that is not ready for academic success due to the underlying tribulations.

The aspect of education attainment based on the economic background is also covered in both articles. Ferguson, Bovaird, and Mueller realized that children from high-income environments score highly on their academic tests as compared to their counterparts from poor families. The result of the disparity implies that employment opportunities at adulthood are usually more for children from poor households. Additionally, families from poor backgrounds were at risk of delivering premature babies due to hardships. The prematurely born infants have weaker neonatal records in academic performance due to their unstable cognitive framework. Therefore, the development of cognitive skills is interrupted, thus implying that their ability to learn faster in class is limited as compared to healthier children from financially stable families.

On the other hand, Lewit, Terman, and Behrman suggest that despite educational attainment, outcomes on the social development of a child in terms of character is also dependent on the depth of poverty. The authors argue that the timing of poverty is important in determining a child’s success in academics. Children affected by poverty in their pre-school and primary school years are predicted to have low chances of school completion since most of them drop out due to economic difficulties and social issues.

The article, The impact of poverty on educational outcomes for children, provides a discussion of the means of reversing the impacts of poverty on children’s education. The authors provide early and later interventions that are aimed at alleviating the situation to enhance the educational success of children. Early preventive interventions based on the control of health-related complications among low-income families are perceived to be strategic. The measure involves immunization programs, improvement of the parent-child relationship and raising awareness on the need for adequate parental care. The motive it to enhance the child’s health outcomes towards the development of cognitive ability.

Later interventions include initiatives that enhance the parent-student relationships as they transit from childhood to adulthood. The parents, schools, and students need to collaborate on community projects that show collective effort towards the success of the whole especially during the transition to high school. Besides, interested parties can intervene through advocacy and support programs that seek to provide, academic, economic, and social sustenance among disadvantaged families to enhance the chances of their children’s success. On the other hand, Lewit, Terman, and Behrman believe that policies aimed at streamlined the provision of food, shelter, and healthcare among other necessities is the foundation of the intervention strategies.


Tough, P. (2013). How Children Succeed. New York, NY: Random House Books. Web.