Tag Archive for competence

Let Them Take A Risk

I hadn’t noticed until someone mentioned it. We were at a playground and there were no teeter-totters. My kids would not learn the thrill of teetering at the high end of the teeter-totter before plummeting back to the ground at a speed slightly quicker than imagined.  There were also no merry-go-rounds, the ones you can get spinning so fast that the centrifugal force threatens to pull you right off the ride. I used to love the feeling of having to hold on for dear life and surviving before bursting into hysterical laughter! No, none of that in this playground. Instead, we stood on a large, soft rubber mat surrounded by mulch. The rides included enclosed stairs and “castle peaks, short slides, and balancing beams two inches off the ground. Don’t get me wrong. This was an amazing playground and my children loved it. Their favorite ride, though, was the spinning tire swing. My children loved to get on that swing beg me to spin them so fast their hair would fly straight back. Some parents wouldn’t allowed their children to ride at the fast spin, directed them to the slides and the castles. But my girls loved the thrill of holding on as the force of spinning pulled them outward. I just liked watching their hair fly back as they spun.

This memory came to mind as I read a review of the literature on play and anxiety published in Evolutionary Psychology. This review suggested that “risky play,” like the playground rides described above, help to prevent long-term anxiety. The article notes that we have become a society in which anxiety is epidemic and the overprotection of children may contribute to that increase in anxiety. Risky play, play in which we go right to the edge of safety, may help prevent anxiety. It helps us become more aware of our environment and our personal limitations. The more we know about our surroundings and the more comfortable we become with exploring new things, the less anxiety will hold us back. The more we know about our personal limitations, the more we practice healthy caution rather than anxious avoidance. But risky play does more than increase our awareness. It also represents a form of “exposure therapy,” an opportunity to face our anxiety in a healthy, appropriate manner and overcome the fears that threaten to imprison us. For instance, climbing trees teaches us to interpret the feelings associated with greater heights as information rather than simple anxiety that holds us back  and “keeps us on the ground.” We can make wise decisions based on our experienced-based knowledge of the environment (strong vs. weak branches) and our own ability. This comfort with heights translates from trees to bridges to rooftops to airplanes. We learn to think wisely about our actions and related fears rather than succumbing to irrational anxieties. 

So, what kind of risky play can help your children avoid anxiety? Here are six categories identified in the literature review.

  1. Exploring heights by doing things like climbing trees, jumping, balancing or swinging.
  2. Exploring speed as we speed along on our bikes, skates, sliding, etc.
  3. Learning about dangerous tools by using knives, ropes, or tractors for various activities.
  4. Rough-and-tumble play, like wrestling, play fighting, or sword fighting with sticks, helps us learn to negotiate physical interactions with others.
  5. Exploring “dangerous elements” like deep water, icy water, fire, or rock climbing.
  6. “Getting lost” and exploring our communities and world.

Of course, we don’t want our children to go crazy. We still need to teach our children the difference between risky behavior and hazardous behavior. However, when the opportunity arises, let your children engage in some risky play. Let them poke the fire. Let them climb the tree. Encourage them to do some rock climbing, wood chopping, vegetable cutting, and swimming in the deep end. Let them explore. You may be preventing the rise of anxiety and opening the door for them to live a more joyous life.

Raising Respectful Children (A Self-Examination)

Raising respectful children is a goal for every parent. We begin to teach them to respect by demanding they respect us or forcing them to show respect to others. But, I have to wonder. Is that really the best way to start teaching respect?  Do children learn to respect when we demand they respect us? When we force them to respect others in their speech and actions?  I do believe it important that our children respect us and respect others. But, that may not be the best place to start teaching them respect. In fact, children learn more from watching us than from following our demands. They learn more from how we treat them than they learn from how we tell them to treat others. They watch us closely and model our behavior. They learn how to treat others by experiencing how we treat them. When we treat our children with respect, they are much more likely to treat us and others with respect. So, to teach our children respectful behavior, the best place to begin is by treating our children with respect. Unfortunately, I fear we often neglect to respect our children. Disrespect creeps into our interactions through impatience, preoccupation, or fear of failure.  Think about these ways of respecting our children and do a little self-examination.  Consider each bullet and think about how well you respect your children in the way stated.

  • Respect your children’s competence enough to let your children do tasks around the house.
  • Respect your children’s ability to problem-solve and discover creative solutions rather than jumping in to solve every problem they encounter.
  • Respect your children’s age appropriate independence. Let them complete age appropriate tasks alone.
  • Respect your children by establishing and enforcing clear limits. Make these limits firm, but enforce them politely and respectfully rather than harshly.
  • Respect your children’s willingness to cooperate and accept their help…with a smile and a “thank you.”
  • Respect your children enough to state directly what you desire rather than trying to manipulate them with false choices and questions.
  • Respect your children’s need for predictability by establishing daily routines.
  • Respect your children’s ability to learn by not rescuing them. Let them experience the consequences of their own behaviors, both positive and negative.
  • Respect your children’s dignity by never calling them demeaning names or making comments that degrade them directly or indirectly.
  • Respect your children’s uniqueness by nurturing their individual talents and interests. Be excited about their progress and their interests.
  • Respect your children’s ideas and opinions enough to listen, even when they disagree with you. Respect their ideas enough to let them influence your decisions and actions.
  • Respect your children’s intelligence by letting them answer questions asked of them. You don’t need to answer for them or volunteer them for some activity. Respect allows them to answer for themselves.
  • Respect your children’s feelings by allowing them to express a full range of emotions and teach them to do so in an appropriate manner.
  • Respect your children enough to listen intently and fully.

Well, how did you do?  Are you respecting your children?  I’m sure we can all improve…I know I can.  Still, treating children with respect is the place we begin teaching them to respect others. Children who are respected by family become respectful. Start respecting children today and they will become more respectful tomorrow.

Chores: The Gift of Significance

We underestimate children. By and large we expect too little of our children. We schedule every minute of their day to give them opportunities…and because we think they can’t learn as much on their own. We succumb to video games and TV shows because we think our children incapable of inventing their own activities. We fear they’ll get bored, under our feet, and on our nerves if we don’t turn on the X-Box. We jump in to tidy up their messes, fix their mistakes, and constantly remind them of their innate abilities because we fear their self-esteem will plummet from a momentary failure or less-than-perfect mark. In all actuality our children will learn more from mistakes than successes. They will create amazingly imaginative activities if we allow them to get bored. Yes, we underestimate our children. Unfortunately, discipline issues arise as a result. We underestimate their ability to complete household tasks. We expect they will not complete their homework. We assume they will get bored and nag. Our children simply live down to our expectations. Yes, we underestimate our children. But, there is a way out of this cycle. It takes some time and effort, but it yields huge benefits. “All you have to do” is let your children make a significant contribution to your household. Let me explain.

  1. Mother And Son Doing LaundryLet your children contribute to the household in ways that connect them to the family. Give them jobs that care for the family, not just themselves. For instance, let them help clean the family room, not just their own bedroom (although their bedroom is good to clean, too). Encourage them to help with everyone’s dishes and everyone’s laundry, not just their own. Then thank them for their contribution.
  2. Collaborate with your children in choosing the tasks they will complete. You don’t need to dictate every chore. Sit down, discuss, and divvy up the household tasks. Then you can talk about doing “our” work rather than “your” After all, everyone does their part. Let your language reflect that you and your child, not just your child, have chores that contribute to the household in a significant way.
  3. Make your children’s contribution part of the daily routine rather than something done on occasion. Give them the privilege of making a daily contribution to the family just like you do.
  4. Make the task one you can do together. For instance, gather the garbage from around the house together. Work in the yard together. Clean the family room together—one can vacuum while the other dusts. Fold clothes together. You get the idea. Work together on the household chores. And, talk while you work. Or, if you want to be like one of the seven dwarves from Snow White, whistle while you work.

Your children will gain many benefits when you allow them to work with you to make a significant contribution to your family. Check these benefits out.

  • Your children will gain an increased sense of purpose as they are part of something bigger than themselves. They become part of a family, not just an individual with a self-centered focus.
  • Your children will gain an increased sense of competence as they master various tasks. They will gain greater independence and confidence in their abilities.
  • Your children will gain an increased sense of intimacy. As you work with your children you can talk and laugh together. As you do, you will learn about their interests and values. You will learn about their dreams and fears. You will grow more intimate with them.
  • Your children will gain an increased sense of belonging. They will feel like an integral part of the family to which they contribute, the family that needs their contribution.
  • Your children will gain an increased sense of personal value and significance as they become an integral part of the family.

As an added bonus, you will have fewer discipline problems. Children and teens who have a healthy sense of purpose, belonging, and significance are better behaved. Children and teens with a sense of competence have nothing to prove. Children and teens with an intimate relationship with parents have less desire to rebel.

For more on children and chores, read Dear Children, The Real Reason I Make You Do Chores and Tips to End Chore Wars

Parents, Are You a Chipper or a Sculptor, Part 2

Parents have a huge responsibility. We are responsible for the next generation, the future of our society. The relationships we build with our children will shape the world in which we grow old. The unspoken values we pass on to our children will impact how future generations interact, resolve conflict, and share resources. The subtle ways we treat our children will determine how they view themselves and how they treat others. So, I have to ask: Are you a chipper or a sculptor? Do you carelessly chip away at your children and our future? Or, do you carefully sculpt your children in an effort to bring forth their inner strength and virtues? Part 1 of this article discussed the impact of a chipper on our children and our future. What are sculptors like?

Atatürk ve ÇocuklarSculptors tend to respond to their children thoughtfully. Specifically, sculptors do the following:

  • Sculptors strengthen children’s sense of value by becoming students of their children. They are intensely curious about their children and seek to learn the intent and motive behind their children’s behavior. As a result, sculptors take the time to listen and learn as well as discipline and teach. They discipline inappropriate behavior while teaching alternative and more appropriate behaviors. As parents learn about their children, their children feel valued. They come to see themselves as valuable. They become more willing to let themselves be known and heard. As a result, parent-child relationships grow more intimate.
  • Sculptors forge children who feel competent and capable. They do this with the fires of appreciation and acknowledgement. When a sculptor sees some positive intent or good motive, he appreciates it. He acknowledges that good intent. In response, children increase their tendency to act upon positive intent and good motives. Appreciating and acknowledging positive behaviors also informs children they are competent. Children who are appreciated and acknowledged come to see themselves as capable of achieving and making independent decisions.
  • Sculptors shape respectful behaviors. This shaping process begins with a description of any problem behavior that arises…and problem behaviors will arise. Describing children’s problem behavior separates the behavior from the children’s character. Describing the problem behavior informs children that you saw the problem behavior. They did not “get away with it.” There may be consequences. Along with the consequences, sculptors teach alternative, more positive behaviors to use in response to similar situations arising in the future.
  • Sculptors expand children awareness by pointing out the impact of their problem behavior on other people. Doing so teaches children to be aware of other people and their impact on them. It teaches them to think about others before acting. It teaches them to be respectful of others.
  • Sculptors produce resilient children by encouraging effort. Encouragement of effort becomes the internal dialogue of a sculptor’s child. As a result, children of sculptors can recover from failed attempts. They learn from these attempts and jump at the opportunity to “try again.” These children also learn to encourage others. They come to believe that success is a result of effort and there is enough success for everyone, no need to feel jealous. So, they encourage other people’s efforts and rejoice with those who rejoice.

Consider the future created by sculptors. Children grow up feeling competent. They have learned how to be respectful and aware of others. Their relationships flourish as they take other people into consideration before acting. At the same time, they are comfortable achieving and love to try new things. They seek out new opportunities, innovation, and progress. When others succeed, they celebrate. When they succeed, they share. Relationships grow more intimate as verbal communication is filled with appreciation, acknowledgement, and encouragement. This is a much more inviting future than the future created by chippers. So, I ask again: Are you a chipper or a sculptor when it comes to parenting?

Parents, Are You a Chipper or a Sculptor

Parents carry a huge responsibility. We are responsible for the next generation, the future of our society. The relationships we build with our children shape the world in which we will grow old. The unspoken values we pass on to our children will impact how future generations interact, resolve conflict, and share resources. The subtle ways we treat our children will determine how they view themselves and how they treat others. So, I have to ask: Are you a chipper or a sculptor? Do you carelessly chip away at your children and our future? Or, do you carefully sculpt your children in an effort to shape their inner strength and virtues?

tree grinder,Chippers criticize…a lot. Overly critical parents can see results of their criticism if they take an honest look. Let me describe some of the signs a chipper might see.

  • Criticism chips away at children’s sense of competence. Overly criticized children feel inadequate and incompetent. They feel nothing they do is good enough; and, as a result, they are not good enough. Children who receive constant criticism come to believe there is something wrong with them.
  • Criticism splinters parent-child relationships. Children fear criticism and, to protect themselves, will withdraw from anyone who might criticize them. If they fear a parent will criticize them, they will withdraw from that parent. They will hide any part of themselves they believe their parents will criticize. As a result, their parents cannot know them completely. They will maintain a distant and self-protective relationship. As criticized children withdraw from their parents to avoid criticism, parents also lose any opportunity to influence their children.
  • Criticism shatters children’s self-confidence. It replaces self-confidence with a nagging doubt about personal ability to achieve or make independent decisions. This doubt turns to fear in the face of new opportunities that carry risk (and all opportunity carries some risk). As a result, overly criticized children procrastinate. They avoid novel tasks and opportunities. They miss out.
  • Criticism becomes a twisted internal dialogue that fuels self-doubt and maintains an inadequate self-concept. The more criticism children receive, the smaller, more insignificant, and less capable they will believe themselves to be.
  • Criticism eventually batters other people and relationships. The criticism bouncing around in our children’s minds and whittling away at their own sense of competence eventually overflows to slash at other people. Criticism begets criticism and relationships are devastated.

Think about the future overly critical parents (chippers) create by criticizing their children. Chippers create a future filled with grown children who feel inadequate and incompetent. As a result, these children withdraw and engage in superficial relationships that enable them to hide the most significant and meaningful parts of themselves from others. Loneliness ensues. Self-doubt replaces the drive to grow and learn with feigned satisfaction with a tiresome status quo.  Fear of failure hinders exploration, invention, and the progress that comes from sharing related discoveries. Innovation is hindered. Relationships become marked by critical banter at best and, at worst, harsh criticism and hateful remarks.

We, as parents, can help avoid this future by becoming sculptors instead of chippers. Sculptors…well, read part 2 to learn how sculptors shape their children for a better future.

What Do Laughing Rats Teach Us About Family?

The “tickle monster” (aka-my hand) was poised above my infant daughter’s body as she lay on her back, hands held cautiously in front of her, eyes wide and sparkling with joy.  Her hands served as a buffer between the “tickle monster” and the “tickle monster’s” target–her belly and neck.  Her eyes followed my hand’s every move. “The tickle monster’s gonna get you,” I said in my best sing-song voice. When the “tickle monster” made a slight movement in my daughter’s direction, she curled into a ball, grabbed her stomach and started to giggle. The “tickle monster” then swooped toward her belly and tickled her. She laughed hysterically, a contagious laugh that made several other people in the room laugh, too. I tried to end our game, but she took my hand and put it on her stomach. She wanted to continue.

 

I was reminded of these “tickle games” when I read about a study in which researchers imposed a “tickle test” on a group of rats. (Not that my daughters are rats…oh man, that didn’t come out right…bad sentence sequencing. Maybe they won’t read this one. Anyway….) In this study, the researchers “exposed a one group of rats to a tickle test”–they tickled the rats for two, two minute sessions on a daily basis for two weeks (a lot of two’s there). After a short time, the rats seemed to enjoy the company of the tickler. When the tickler’s hand entered the caged, they followed it around, waiting to get tickled. (read more about this study and watch the video by clicking here

 

After two weeks, the researchers subjected the “tickle test” group and a “non-tickle test” group to a repeated stressful situation (did you ever think you’d see the words “tickle test,” rats, and stress in a blog about family?). After their stress hormones were elevated, the stressful situation ended and the researchers monitored the rats’ stress hormones. The “tickle test” group of rats recovered from the stress more quickly. Their stress hormones went down more rapidly. The tickling appeared to have helped them recover from stress. (read more of these results here)

 

Of course we do not live in a family of rats. Well…. No, really, we don’t. But several years ago, studies showed that laughter, as well as the anticipation of laughter, reduced stress hormones while increasing beta-endorphins (feel good hormones) in humans. In other words, laughter helps us recover from stress, too. I think that the experience of tickling and laughter builds connections and pathways in our brains that help us recover from stress. Maybe the physical contact of tickling is the key ingredient. Or, maybe the key ingredient is the playful interaction enjoyed…or the time spent laughing together…or the hormones released during laughter. I don’t know. But, I do know this: if you would like to teach your family to recover from stressful events more quickly, have some fun together. Tickle, laugh, play. Enjoy one another’s company. I actually think I’m going to push my luck and make my family a “tickle test group.” (That’s a group of people, not rats…come on people, what did you think I meant?) Anyway, want to join the fun…tickle away!

Heroes: Step Aside, Competence Awaits

Several years ago, I watched a 6-year-old leaping up and down in an attempt to grab a bar and hold onto it while sliding across a low hanging beam. She had done it several times, but had now grown tired. So, she jumped and missed the bar several times. Each time she missed, she would grunt and groan…louder and louder with each failed attempt. Her father (I knew the family) walked over and offered to lift her up to grab the bar. She refused and continued to try on her own. With each attempt, her groans grew more frustrated and her uncle (who was also at the park) grew more frustrated. “Would you just help her already?” the uncle yelled from where he sat talking to another girl. But, the father did not help. He simply stood next to his daughter and offered as much support as she wanted. Within moments, the 6-year-old’s persistence paid off. She caught the bar and slid across the beam… smiling from ear to ear at her accomplishment.
 
On the surface this looks like a child playing in the park. Her father and uncle stood nearby: one grew increasingly frustrated and wanted to step in to solve the dilemma while the other just stood idly by offering his help if desired. But, look again. On a deeper level, this incident epitomizes the development of competence. Competence is rooted in the experience of facing and mastering challenges. It necessitates that parents learn to balance when to get out of their child’s way while she persists in some task and when to join in and solve the problem. Consider what this father communicated to his child by allowing her to persist and simply offering help instead of intruding with assistance:
·         “You can decide if you want help. You are wise enough to make that decision. You are competent to decide.”
·         “You can solve this problem and I trust your ability to do so. You are competent to do it.”
 
Many times parents simply have to get out of the way so a child can gain competence. We have to allow our children to figure out how to finish their own projects, completing it to their own specifications. When we step in to figure it out for them, we communicate that we do not believe in their wisdom, their creativity, or their capabilities. We save them from learning the benefit of persistence. We even teach them that they do not have to work for success, Mom and Dad will fix it instead. Our children come to believe that our actions prove they lack wisdom, creativity, and ability. They come to believe that failure is inevitable. They learn that they lack competence; that they are incompetent. That is not what we want our children to learn, but when we step in that is what we teach them. It can be difficult not step in, to let them struggle instead. Seeing our children struggling in frustration sounds our internal alarm. The “mother bear” or “protector of the house” moves in to save and protect. We have the experience that can help, the ability to make an impact, the power to make it easier for them. We can be our child’s hero. Unfortunately, acting on that impulse, becoming the hero, often leads to children who have no personal competence and a great dependency on their parents.
 

So, step aside. A true hero knows when to help and when to watch. Let your child figure it out. Let them struggle through the task. Even allow them to fail and, through that failure, learn how to get up, dust off, and “get back on the horse.” Let them learn that they have competence. Even more, let them learn that they are competent.

Christmas Shopping Increases Children’s Competence

“Ho, Ho, Ho! ‘Tis the season” for giving gifts…and that means shopping. Shopping is work (for me anyway)! But, shopping also provides an opportunity to raise children with character, children who feel competent. Have you ever thought about what goes in to getting someone a really good gift? First, we have to think like they do: What kind of gift would they like? What gift would bring them joy? To answer these questions, we have to step into the other person’s shoes, see their life through their eyes, and accept their view of the world. In other words, we have to have empathy with the other person…a good character trait to develop. Second, we have to have a desire to be generous or gracious toward the other person. We have to desire to give them a gift with no strings attached and no expectation of repayment…otherwise it just isn’t a gift. Christmas shopping offers a great opportunity to teach our children about generosity and grace, especially the grace of God in giving us His Son to pay the price for our sin. That sets a pretty high bar on generosity, doesn’t it? Third (and on a much less taxing level perhaps), we have to use good math skills. We want to show generosity and grace, but we do not want to go bankrupt. We want to wisely balance our generosity with our actual ability. Math skills become important for wisely showing grace while remaining in our budget. Overall, Christmas shopping offers a great opportunity to raise children competent in perspective taking and empathy, budgeting skills, and generosity. What can you do to help this process? I’m glad you asked….Here are a two specific ways you can use shopping to build competence in your children:
     ·         Get out of the way and let your children decide on the gift they want to give. You can brainstorm with them and discuss ideas, but let them decide. Show them that you trust their ideas and wisdom. While you brainstorm, listen. Listen to learn how your child thinks. Ask them why they are thinking about a particular gift. Have they heard Mommy talk about wanting that? Do they notice Daddy using something similar or wearing something similar? What lead them to think their friend might like this particular gift. Not only do you learn about your children’s thought patterns, you also help them learn perspective taking through this conversation.

·         Let your children contribute to the gift. I realize that many children do not have money to buy gifts, but let them make some kind of contribution. This contribution does not have to be in the form of money. Their contribution may include wrapping the present (this may not be pretty, depending on their age…although my family says my wrapping is still not pretty—unique, but not pretty). Or, let them hand the money to the cashier when purchasing the gift, hide the gift somewhere at home until it’s time to put it under the tree, or put it in their special place under the tree at the right time. As our children get older, they can even contribute financially to the gift. Whatever their contribution, let them do it. Do not step in to fix it or tweak it. If their “wrap job” does not look neat, let it go. Acknowledge and appreciate their contribution and their effort. Do not step in to make it neater. Instead, communicate your trust and confidence in their ability by letting them finish the task, in their way and at their speed. And, if they have an idea about the gift or their contribution to the gift, listen and discuss that idea. If at all possible, utilize their idea. Be excited with them for their idea and “brag on” that idea to reveal their involvement in the whole gift-giving process. After all, their idea expresses their love and generosity. Share in that love and generosity with your own excitement.
 
Two simple ways to use Christmas gift shopping to increase competence in your children…and have fun at the same time! Merry Christmas!

A Parenting Lesson From Michael Phelps

I watched a short interview with Michael Phelps’ coach (Bowman) during the Olympics last week. Apparently, Phelps’ coach used to create minor difficulties and problems for Michael during their training for the 2008 Olympics. “I’ve always tried to find ways to give him adversity in either meets or practices and have him overcome it,” Bowman said. He told about hiding Phelps’ goggles or some other equipment. The coach intentionally added little hassles to Michael’s daily workout in order to prepare him for any difficulties that might arise during meets. One reporter told this similar story about Phelps and his coach:
When “Phelps was swimming at one of his first national junior meets in the US, Bowman [Phelps’ coach] noticed he had left his goggles behind just before he walked out to the blocks. “I saw them sitting in our team area, I could have taken the goggles to him but I decided to keep them and see what he could do,” Bowman said. “So he swam and won the race without the goggles just like he did here in the butterfly when his goggles filled with water.” (Click here to read article)
 
That’s right, in the 2008 Olympics, this type of training paid off. When Phelps dove off the starting block for the 200 butterfly, his goggles came loose and filled with water. Phelps, who had dealt with adversity in training, swam through this hardship and won the gold medal. It seems that learning to deal with adversity came in handy!
 
What does this have to do with parenting? Our children encounter adversity all the time. Like Michael Phelps, they forget things that they need. Maybe they forget their lunch when they go to school. Maybe they leave their project unfinished until the last minute. Maybe they struggle with homework and do their best to avoid it. Whatever the difficulty, we do our children an injustice if we save them from every adversity and discomfort they experience—i.e., finishing the project they left until the last minute, running their lunch to them every time they forget it, always cleaning up the mess they leave. On the other hand, we help them learn and grow by waiting to “see what they can do” on their own. In fact, we promote Olympic quality problem solvers and planners by allowing them to learn from their mistakes and, as a result, increase their skills at problem solving. So, if you want your child to become a contender for the lifetime personal responsibility award and participate in the final heat of the problem solving event, allow them to struggle some during training (life). See what they can do on their own rather than jumping in to save them. Watch them learn from their failures. Enjoy the creative solutions they discover in the face of adversity. Then, beam with pride as they receive the gold medal in the lifetime personal responsibility and problem solving event.

Parenting Preschoolers, Marshmallows, & Success

What does parenting preschoolers, eating marshmallows, and success have in common? Apparently a lot. Daniel Goleman describes a fascinating study involving preschoolers and marshmallows. A researcher engaged a 4-to-6-year-old in play. After a short time, he told the child he had an errand to run. He plopped a marshmallow on the table and said, “If the marshmallow is there when I return, you can have two marshmallows.” The researcher then left the preschooler alone with the marshmallow for 15-20 minutes. Some preschoolers covered their eyes. Others turned around and “ignored” the marshmallow. Some even petted the marshmallow as though it were a stuffed animal or licked the table around the marshmallow. Of course, some ate the marshmallow. Those who did not eat the marshmallow until the researcher returned enjoyed two marshmallows. When the preschoolers prepared to graduate from high school, the researchers did a little follow up research. They discovered that the preschoolers who did not eat the marshmallow (waited until the researcher returned and earned a second marshmallow) were described by teachers and parents as more competent than those who quickly ate the single marshmallow. They scored an average of 210 points more on SAT tests. They tended to present as more positive, self-motivating, self-confident, and persistent. They exhibited the ability to delay gratification in pursuit of a goal (like waiting to get a second marshmallow). These habits, with delayed gratification as the centerpiece, can go on to contribute to thriving marriages, greater career satisfaction, and better health. This “marshmallow study” suggests that persistence and the ability to delay gratification sets the foundation for children to flourish and cope with the pressures of life. So, how can we help our children learn persistence? How can we help our children learn to delay gratification?
 
Researchers from Brigham Young University have recently helped us answer this question. They published a study that followed 325 two-parent families (with 11-14 year old children) in an effort to discover the origins of persistence. They found that both parents contributed to persistence. Interestingly though, persistence gained through fathers led to higher engagement in school and lower rates of delinquency over time. What did these fathers do that had the greatest impact on a child’s level of persistence? They did three things that all parents can do:
     1.      The fathers engaged in warm, loving relationships with their children. They were available to their children and engaged them in interactions. They listened to their children. They played with their children.

2.      The fathers held their children accountable for their behavior and emphasized the reasons behind the rules. They loved their children enough to teach them right from wrong. They pointed out inappropriate behavior and disciplined that behavior. At the same time, they explained why that behavior was inappropriate and explained alternative desired behaviors.

3.      The fathers gave their children an appropriate level of autonomy. They did not hold them back; nor, did they push them beyond their ability. This demands knowing your child. What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What are they developmentally able to do or not do? To learn the answers to these questions, a parent must take an interest in their child. They must become a student of their child and their child’s development.
 

Although this study pointed to the benefit of fathers in building persistence, both parents can practice the three ingredients noted above. When you do put these skills into practice, you increase the chances that your child will grow in their ability to stick to a task until it is done and pursue a goal until they achieve it. That is the beginning of success!

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