Get Your Child’s Head in the Game with MEATT
Parents like to see their children perform well. Who am I kidding? I like to see my children perform well. In fact, if you are like me, you may get more nervous than your children do when they get out on the field for the big game or up on stage for the first act. We want them to experience success. That success, however, begins long before they walk onto the field or stage. It begins even before practice starts. Our children’s performance success begins with their mindset…and their mindset begins with us! How we encourage and praise our children helps develop a mindset that promotes success or a mindset that promotes fear and anxiety. Praise that focuses on innate, natural talent promotes a fear of failure. If our praise voices a belief that genetics or natural talent made our child the excellent performer, we have raised the ante on performance anxiety. I know it sounds paradoxical; but, if I think my talent is inherited, “just who I am,” or a natural ability, I may believe that failure simply shows the limit of my ability. Rather than face that limit, I might underperform. I might stick with what I know I can already do and not risk reaching the limit of my ability and the start of my failure. Praise that focuses on natural talent creates anxiety and teaches our children to underperform. When they experience failure (which we all will) or finds themselves struggling (which we all do), they may believe they have reached the limit of their ability and quit…since other kids seem to have more ability now. Broad, generic statements like “You are really smart (or talented or good)” will have a similar result.
On the other hand, when we send a clear message that we value effort more than achievement, we promote success. Studies suggest successful people, even elite performers, have at least four things in common:
- They practice hard and they practice deliberately.
- They practice consistently.
- They practice consistently over the long-term in spite of any experience of failure or temporary setback. In fact, they come to see failure as a key factor in their growth.
- They believe that persistent effort will bring success.
Notice what each of these factors have in common: practice, effort, and hard-work! When we teach our children to believe that hard-work and effort (not simply natural talent) reveals the true extent of their ability, we have helped them get their head in the game. When we let our children know we value effort more than achievement, and practice more than perfection, we help them get their head in the game. So, here are five ways we can send the message (he real “M.E.A.T.T.” of teaching our children the importance of effort) that effort is more important than the final product.
- Model working hard toward a goal and enjoying your work toward a goal. Children learn a lot by watching us!
- Encourage your children to persist in reaching their goals. John Hayes, a cognitive psychologist, found great composers, athletes, and artists had a “decade of silence” in their field before reaching success. This “decade of silence” was filled with practice…practice…and more practice. Effort!
- Acknowledge the effort your children exert in reaching a goal. Rather than simply praising the finished product or performance, let them know you recognize their effort and enjoy watching that effort pay off. “You put a lot of effort into learning that and it really paid off today.” “I can tell you worked hard on that picture/song/pitch. It’s very cool.”
- Teach your children how to practice deliberately. This might include breaking the final goal into multiple steps, breaking a task into component parts and practicing each part individually. This also includes slowing down, practicing specific skills, and getting feedback.
- Teach your children to have fun! Add variety to their practice to avoid boredom. Let part of the practice involve aspects your children really enjoy. Work hard and have fun!
Give your children the MEATT of effort and you will find their persistence improves and, as a result, their performance will improve. They will have their head in the game.