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More PsychNotes: Parenting

January 3, 2017       

Encouraging Task Persistence to Help Children Achieve in Life
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

student doing schoolwork
Educational and career success in middle adulthood can be predicted by persistence at age 13. Task persistence was measured by a teacher's observation that the student was able to concentrate and stick to a task. The ability to persist at a task was shown to be related to higher grades and to completing a higher level of education. In addition, men were more likely to have a higher level of income (Andersson and Bergman, 2011).

Although task persistence can be affected by personality, intelligence, and biological factors (i.e. Attention Deficit Disorder), it can also be influenced by environment. As such, parents can take steps to help increase a child's task persistence.

Steps to Improve Persistence

1) Focus on process, not outcome. Learning is a process whereas grades are an outcome. Most children naturally want to learn but the desire to learn often fades due to the pressure to achieve. However, by focusing on a child's effort the parent can instill feelings of success based on persistence rather than grades or achievement. “I am proud of you for the effort you put into this project” or “You really stuck it out even when it was difficult.”

2) Instill conscientiousness. The more a child desires to do well the more persistent the child will be. However, insisting that a child to do well often backfires. Conscientiousness needs to be an intrinsic motivator which means it is based on an internal desire. Intrinsic motivators aren't developed through external rewards or punishments. Instead, motivation can be cultivated by noticing a child's natural desires and encouraging them. Most young children can be motivated by a parent's attention and interest. For instance, reading to a child at bedtime can increase the desire to learn to read. Practicing a skill with a child can encourage the desire to learn the skill.

3) Model persistence. A parent working with a child on a project can help the child persist. When the child becomes frustrated, the parent can demonstrate methods to manage the frustration and complete the project. “Okay, if we take a break from this we'll be able to come back to it refreshed and get it done.” Projects can be anything from school assignments to cleaning the child's room.

Andersson, H. and Bergman, L.R. (2011). The Role of Task Persistence in Young Adolescence for Successful Educational and Occupational Attainment in Middle Adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 47, 950–960. DOI: 10.1037/a0023786

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Dr. Monica Frank

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