Brigid, a chaplain working in the oncology unit of a hospital, came to know a man undergoing treatment for cancer. He was unusually upbeat considering that the treatment he was undergoing was painful. “I asked him how he could remain so cheerful,” Brigid says. “He explained that he had played football in high school and he had learned how to deal with pain in such a way that he did not let it interfere with reaching his goals.”
For Brigid, mother of four, the experience was one that stayed with her as she transitioned from hospital ministry to a career in teaching. “As a teacher, I have seen that perseverance is a critical factor in success. An average-ability student who has grit and perseverance can be more successful than a gifted student who takes his or her ability for granted and coasts,” she says.
How do we help children value putting forth a strong effort? Why are some children motivated to do their best and others shrug off hard work? For parents whose children fail to reach their potential, the question is excruciating.
“Watching our son almost flunk out of high school has been one of our most difficult experiences,” says Joseph, whose son scored in the top 1 percent nationally on standardized tests yet wouldn’t complete requirements for classes that didn’t interest him. “Once they’re in high school, there is not much a parent can do if the child doesn’t put forth effort.”
According to research out of Columbia University in New York, parents of elementary-aged children who want to raise kids who persevere in middle and high school need to be intentional about their own behavior when the kids are working. In their parenting book, NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children (Hatchett Book Group), authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain the Columbia study. Half of a group of 400 fifth-graders working on a puzzle were complimented on how smart they were as they finished it. The other half were complimented on their effort. Those complimented on their intelligence did significantly worse on the subsequent (more difficult) puzzles than their peers who were complimented on effort. “Those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort,” Bronson and Merryman say. “Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it with your natural gifts.”
Lead with your own effort. People very skilled at a specific task can make it look easy to the rest of us. Children may not know how hard we are trying at our job or in our relationships because we don’t want to burden them with our struggles. But Jennifer, mother of two, believes children need to see effort firsthand in order to understand it. “I want to pass on to my children that it takes effort to achieve what you want out of life and it takes practice to be good at something,” she says. “I do not shield my children from the effort I put into my daily life. I try to lead by example and hope they will learn.” …continued next week
By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for four years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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