Don’t Give Up! Study Says Babies Learn Perseverance By Watching Their Parents Struggle

posted: 09/27/17
by: Amanda Mushro
Tensed man looking in documents while wife and baby in background at home

We all know the saying, "if at first you don't succeed--try, try again." According to a new study, we need to add "especially if your baby is watching."

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have released findings from a recent study that say persistence or "grit" is a characteristic parents can pass on to toddlers as young as 15 months old. The study suggests that even young children can learn the value of hard work after witnessing an adult struggle. So rather than keep everything rainbows and butterflies at home, you should let your kids "see you sweat."

As part of the study, researchers presented babies with a musical toy box and observed the babies as they tried to make the toy work. What researchers found was babies who had just witnessed an adult struggle with a different kind of task-- such as removing a toy frog from a container or removing a key chain from a carabiner--would try harder to complete their own task compared with with babies who didn't witness an adult struggling.

"There's some pressure on parents to make everything look easy and not get frustrated in front of their children," says MIT cognitive science professor Laura Schulz. "There's nothing you can learn from a laboratory study that directly applies to parenting, but this does at least suggest that it may not be a bad thing to show your children that you are working hard to achieve your goals."

Researchers noted that of all the 260 babies that were involved in the study there "wasn't any difference in how long they played with the toy or in how many times they tossed it to their parent." However, it was the difference in the number of times the babies tried to make the toy work before asking for help that caught their attention.

Babies who had seen the experimenter struggle before succeeding actually pressed the button nearly twice as many times as those who saw their adult easily succeed at their task. These babies also pressed the buttons nearly twice as many times before asking for help or losing interest in the toy.

What can parents learn from this study? It's OK to let our kids see us struggle and try hard--even at small tasks. So the next time I'm struggling to get the jar of spaghetti sauce open in front of my kids, I'll think of it as a teachable moment.