Foundation Welcomes Author Paul Tough to the District of Columbia

The Bainum Family Foundation was proud to welcome acclaimed author Paul Tough to Washington, D.C., last week for a lecture and book-signing event. We are fans of his work, as it aligns with our own mission, and we were pleased to be one of five sponsors of his latest book, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why. In this new book, Paul provides a clear, concise handbook with useful, everyday ideas for how best to help children do better. It serves as a practical sequel to his 2013 bestseller, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.


Sharing insights from his research and his writing on the new science of success, Paul’s talk focused on two important topics: adversity and environment.


Much of his new book addresses the lives of children growing up in adversity and explains the lifelong, detrimental impact this can have in the absence of effective interventions. When a child experiences chronic elevated stress, his or her stress-response network is kicked into overdrive — which could result in myriad long-term problems including compromised immune systems, self-defeating behaviors and underdeveloped executive functions.

But in his talk, Paul also pointed out the problems at the other end of this spectrum — when children grow up with little or no adversity and, thus, don’t learn how to fail and recover. This, too, can hinder their successful long-term development.


Paul also has come to view a child’s environment ― at home, in school, in the community ― as key to healthy development and the establishment of traits like grit, resilience and character. These environments (and ultimately, relationships) surrounding the child, he says, should not shield him or her from the prospect of failure, but rather promote security and support so the child feels able to rise above any given setback.

Rather than trying to “teach” character skills, he argues, we should focus instead on creating the kinds of environments in which those qualities are most likely to flourish.

Reflecting our new strategic direction, Paul underscored the influence we all have in a child’s first few years of life. How the malleability of a birth-to-three-year-old brain translates to the trajectory of the child’s adulthood and future success. And how — with a firm foundation underfoot and bolstered by qualities such as perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control — a child can travel into a promising future.

We are grateful for Paul’s book and his lecture, and how his work has given all of us — our partners, staff and our broader community — ideas and inspiration for our own efforts. Learn more about the Bainum Family Foundation’s commitment to D.C. infants and toddlers.

Read or download the full online version of Helping Children Succeed

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