A Different Definition of Success

I have had patients who are lucky in life; handsome, bright, good at their jobs, wealthy and well-loved. But I think of success as something different, something that is the product of hard work and also self-knowledge.

By that measure, I’d have to say Stewart is the most successful kid I know.

He was 9 when we met, sandy-haired, not exactly rotund but stocky, confident and good natured. His face was wonderfully expressive. He could talk to anybody. He was also messy, clumsy, and when asked to do things he couldn’t do well—especially reading or writing—he fidgeted like crazy. His ADHD made it hard for him to get organized. Stewart could drive you nuts. But Stewart could also light up the room—keeping you company, listening, asking questions, smiling. At school, without seeking attention, he was always the center of a group.

It turned out that Stewart’s sociability and his distractedness were in a delicate balance. When I gave him an appropriate stimulant, Ritalin, he snapped into focus. He completed his assignments and turned them in. He no longer had wads of paper spilling and billowing around the sides of his desk.

“But ….” He didn’t have a way to explain what the downside was, but his teachers and I had observed it. The drug made him shy, withdrawn and awkward. His enormous intellectual potential began to be evident in his grades. But I wasn’t willing for him to sacrifice his friendliness—and the great personality he expressed through it—just to do well academically.

I tried different medications at different dosages, an experimental process Stewart was very patient with. Finally, we settled on an effective dose that affected his affability the least. Stewart then applied himself fiercely. He became his own advocate when he went to boarding school, explaining his condition to teachers, petitioning for more time to take exams, and arranging for tutoring.

He arranged another accommodation regarding his treatment and took his meds only during the school week. On weekends, he allowed the mellow, less-focused Stewart free reign—a pattern he continues to follow.

Now, having graduated from college, Stewart has a great life. He works for an advertising agency, and—this shows how far he has come—is in charge of keeping track of projects, follow-ups, phone calls and schedules. He has a lot of friends. He’s developed a great—and realistic—sense of self. Now that’s what I call success.

Five Ways to Raise a Successful Child

  • Know what your child does well and what causes your child to struggle.
  • Have realistic expectations that match your child’s strengths.
  • Know your child’s passions and interests—these are likely to be the child’s areas of greatest success.
  • Give your child the opportunity to enjoy the reward of working hard for something.
  • Help your child learn to self-advocate.