“When you practice and practice and practice, you get better and better and better.” This accurate observation came out of my five-year-old son’s mouth earlier this week. He’d been practicing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on his xylophone with the goal of playing it error-free. After a couple of days, he did. And he was proud of his persistence and hard work. Case in point.
It seems to me perseverance is not a strong trait of human nature and you can observe this early in life. How many toddlers give up on a task, just because they can’t get it right? How many young kids will stop an activity because “they can’t” and “it’s too hard”? How many school-age children will give up on math because “they don’t get it”? How many young adults will refuse to draw anything, even if they drew well in their childhood, because “they’re not good at drawing”? How many adults will stick to the same career path even if they don’t enjoy it, just because “it’d be too much work to learn something new”?
We give up too easily. Why? Because it’s the painless, easy road to take – the path of least resistance. And because we lack the confidence to go all the way. Because we don’t want to work hard at it and end up “wasting” our time, in case things don’t work out as expected. Why do so many of us act that way? I believe it has a lot to do with parents, teachers and other influencers teaching us it’s OK to stop trying. At least at some point.
My mother raised me, most of the time as a single parent. She didn’t let me get away with anything. Once I started something (of my own choice or required, such as school), she expected me to finish it. Failing was an option (although frowned upon) but giving up wasn’t. It was tough, painful, frustrating at times. It led me to obtain a highly respected baccalaureate in biology/math/science when I knew I never wanted a career in those fields. But it also taught me I could accomplish a task even if I didn’t like doing it.
This no-can’t-do attitude gave me the strength almost 20 years ago to leave the nest and travel by myself 3000 miles away from my home in France after accepting a teaching assistantship in Connecticut. I gave me the courage to move another 3000 miles to San Diego, California when I couldn’t take anymore of the snow, the ice and the cold. It helped me explore a career in marketing communications at a time when I had no clue what marketing was about. And today it’s helping me explore a new career path, with things lining up pretty nicely at this point. I believe perseverance pays off, as long as you stick to it.
As a parent, I’ve now taken a mentor role with my own kids. Just like my mom, I don’t put up with their use of “I can’t”, “it’s too hard”, “it won’t work”. I simply don’t allow these words in the house. If my kids say they can’t, I remind them they just mean “they don’t want to”. But I also remind them that if they keep trying, they’ll succeed. And it works. Every time. And they’re starting to figure it out. So today I hear less of “I can’t” and more of “I can do it by myself” and “let me see, how can I do this?”. I
hover stand back and provide encouragement along the way (I believe in praising the effort rather than the result). The grin on their faces as they accomplish something difficult on their own is priceless. They get it, they really get it!
How do you handle fear of failure with your kids? What have you used to motivate your kids to accomplish difficult tasks? Do you think the way your parents raised you influenced your attitude towards accomplishments?