The Effort and School Success Connection

by | Mar 31, 2010 | Character and Moral Intelligence

REALITY CHECK: We need to teach our kids the value of effort. Doing so helps children recognize that a large part of success is controllable; it’s all a matter of how much personal effort and work they choose to put into a task. We can make an immense difference on our children’s potential if we emphasize effort and stress: “It’s not good enough just to start, you have to finish.”

I’m preparing a keynote address to give tomorrow for the National Business Education Association. Teachers are seeing a new breed of students these days:  quicker to give up, more prone to expect praise or a reward for good work, and clearly more easily frustrated with frustrations. (And believe me, those kinds of traits will dramatically curtail not only our children’s success and mental health in the here and now but also their job performance and satisfaction later). So I’m devouring research to offer this group as well as practical teaching suggestions.

One of the most fascinating recent studies on student achievement I found was conducted by Harold Stevenson, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. He sought to answer a question many Americans ask, “Why do Asian students do better academically than American students?”

Since 1979, his team of researchers conducted five intensive cross-national studies analyzing students’ achievement in the United States, China, Taiwan, and Japan. Hundreds of hours observing students and interviewing their teachers, the researchers reached a conclusion: a critical key lies in what parents emphasize about their children’s learning. Asian parents strongly stress the value of effort with their children.  Over and again they tell their children, “Work as hard as you can, and you will be successful.”

By expecting their children to work hard, and emphasizing the attitude: “there are no excuses for poor grades, you just didn’t work hard enough,” perseverance is nurtured in Asian children. And the parental expectations had a remarkable effect on their children: the researchers found on the whole, Asian children worker longer and harder than their American counterparts because they had recognized their success was based on how hard they worked.

Instead of prioritizing how much effort our kids put into their learning attempts, American parents (I know, not you…we’re discussing the neighbor’s kids… right? but…) emphasized “So what grade did you get?” or “How many did you miss?” or “Did you win?” The effort a child puts into the process is not nearly as important to the American parent as the end product of the grade or score.

Stevenson also found American parents place a greater emphasis on their children’s innate abilities. They tend to lower their academic expectations for their children if they perceive them to have lower academic abilities. An Asian parents’ philosophy is different: any child can succeed regardless of an IQ score or handicap–success is all a matter of how hard you are willing to work.

Just think a minute of the long term effect of stressing effort could have on our children! Our kids would learn from an early age that there’s nothing that can stop them from succeeding if they put their heart and soul into their endeavors. They would see mistakes or failures as just temporary setbacks, instead of as excuses to quit. If they just keep on trying, and use their mistakes as learning clues, they’ll ultimately achieve their goals! Your simple switch from stressing product to effort can make a major difference in your child’s success quotient.

You can find specific ways to help your students and children value effort by referring to a blogs I wrote earlier:

Simple Solutions That Teach Kids to Persevere.

* Parenting Solutions That Helps Kids Rebound From Mistakes

Tons (really — it’s over 700 pages of a complete parenting reference) of research-based strategies are also available in my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries in the following chapters: Disorganized (p. 549); Overscheduled (p 568); Attention Deficit (p. 466); Learning Disabilities (p. 516); Gives Up (p. 426); Homework (p. 435); Procrastinates (p. 488); Test Anxiety (p. 460).

More parenting solutions are available on my daily blog, Michele Borba or follow me on twitter Michele Borba @MicheleBorba.

Meanwhile, make time at least once today to stress EFFORT to your child! Go!