Are children less likely to succeed at something when they are initially told, “It’s Hard”?
Would they have flourished if they didn’t have preconceived notions of potential failure that were planted by adults?
By shutting our pie holes, let’s give our children better chances of success.
Let me illustrate.
In my young childhood years, I was a perfectionist. So much so, I think it could have been a borderline personality disorder, if those things would have been routinely diagnosed in the 1980s the way they seem to be these days.
Eventually, my aspirations of academic perfection were superseded by an interest in boys, MTV, and being social with friends.
Moving to a new town, my parents enrolled us at a small private school, where adults said would be much more challenging because of the stereotype, which truth is immaterial, that private schools were more difficult than public.
On top of that, I’d be enrolled in Algebra, which adults warned would be really, really difficult.
Not a knock on my parents. Just adults in general.
While my strengths and interests were more aligned with social studies and language arts, I had always performed just fine in math and science.
There’s a formula. Plug the formula into your Ti-83. You get an answer. Boom!
Ultimately, I took to heart what adults said about Algebra being hard, used it as an excuse to slack off and not pay attention in class or do well on tests, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy because I earned a B instead of the usual A.
It was my first B. Ever.
Who cares that I got a B? It was in Algebra and, dangit, Algebra was hard.
But did I really think it was hard, or was I just adopting someone else’s opinions?
Sure, I didn’t do well in math because, as I the school year progressed, I cared more about whether Puck was getting kicked out of the San Francisco house on The Real World than about whether a2 + b2 = c2.
But what would have happened if everyone would have said Algebra would be a piece of cake? Maybe it wouldn’t have freaked me out, I would have paid better attention in class, and killed it.
I should’ve gotten that flipping A.
So began the domino effect of my hatred for mathematics and why I became a lawyer instead of a plastic surgeon.
I couldn’t bear the idea of sticking it through classes like anatomy, biochemistry, genetics, and immunology.
All because some nimrods said they would be hard.
From personal experience, preconceived notions about something being difficult have spilled into adulthood. I’ve seen it happen with friends and colleagues. There’ve been times I’ve observed a supervisor walk into a co-worker’s office, hand them a new assignment, and said: “this is a very complex legal issue, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of case law that supports the argument we want to make.” Psychologically, they’ve already set themselves up for failure, both in locating the applicable law and finding a successful outcome for the client.
Who can blame them?
Where difficulty and potential failure are a “first impression,” it can seem nearly impossible to come out of that mindset, plow through, and succeed.
There’re so many stereotypes, especially with education.
I think it’s bad.
Then, it got me to thinking.
How many times has someone not tried or succeeded at something, just because somebody else said it would be too hard?
<Raising my hand over here. At least twenty times.>
As parents, can we stop perpetuating stereotypes to youngsters about things being difficult, keep our mouths closed, and just sit back and watch what happens?
Maybe Junior would join the chess club if nobody projected their opinions it would be hard.
Or perhaps Sally would have no qualms about training for the marathon if ole’ Daddio didn’t tell her she’d never finish and it would be murder on her knees anyway.
Dang. Maybe David would take a chance and send his longshot application for college at Princeton if step-mom over there didn’t tell him it would be too hard to get in, and he’d be better off just applying at the local junior college.
A 2015 study from the University of California found a positive correlation between parents’ supportive (academic) interactions with their children and success. Further, it found that whether or not parents expected their children to attend college was a key factor in the children’s success.
The takeaway: if you expect your children to succeed, they likely will!
Look, there’s no denying some things are more difficult than others. But kids are all different. One child might find art to be tedious and marine science to be a cake walk, while his sibling is the exact opposite.
What would happen if, instead of blowing something off as hard, we just tell our children it will be hard work?
There’s a difference.
Let’s let our kids decide what they think is hard and easy.
Let’s stop poisoning the well.