Babies act more determined after their parents demonstrate dealing with difficulty
I may need to teach my son to struggle more. It’s not that things are too easy for him, but that he expects them to be easy. In many scenarios, it’s not that his four-year-old brain or hands are incapable of say, putting on his shoes, but if there’s frustration involved he’d rather skip it. So keep him from quitting before he gives himself a chance, research indicates that I need to show him how hard a time I have with my shoes, even if that means faking it.
The research in question actually looked at kids much younger than four, focusing on babies around 13 months old. 260 babies were divided into three groups to see how long they would attempt a difficult task based on what kind of examples nearby adults set beforehand. One group of babies watched their guardians struggle with getting keys off a carabiner or open a container, only succeeding after a preset time of 30 seconds. A second group of babies watched their guardian repeatedly succeed at these tasks, again for 30 seconds to ensure that the amount of interaction was basically the same. A third group of babies were just left to ponder on their own a bit as a control group, with no adults to model their behavior on either way.
After the adults dealt with their difficult keyrings or containers, they presented the baby with a music box. The box had one obvious button that did nothing, plus a hidden button the guardian would trigger before leaving the room. The activated boxes would play a bit of music, prompting the baby to try and reactivate the box on their own, presumably by interacting with the big fake button. As expected, no babies actually figured out how to activate the music on their own, but they did vary quite a bit in how hard they tried.
When is struggling worth the effort?
The kids that didn’t watch an adult at all didn’t give the box too much of their time, nor did kids that got a demonstration of repeated success. In contrast, the babies that witnessed their guardian put in a lot of fruitless effort before finally dealing with their keys and containers put in more work themselves. Even though they were attempting a different task, their expectations for how to solve a problem seemed to shift, and they were less likely to give up. This doesn’t necessarily scale forever- it wasn’t tested, but researcher suspect that a guardian that never succeeded after 30 seconds might be discouraging as well.
It’s unclear if these practices are only effective in babies, or if kids old enough to say “I can’t!” will be impressed to see their dad fumble with his sneakers for 30 seconds before we head out the door. I’ve never felt like I was making things look easy in front of my kids, but at the very least, pretending to have a hard time certainly sounds like an easy task to try out.
Source: Babies Learn Perseverance by Watching You Sweat by Christopher Wanjek, Live Science