MPA Blog

Creating Tenacity



If you've ever spent time around farmers, you'll notice how normal they think they are.  But to us city folk, they're pretty amazing people.  I couldn't imagine doing what they do, but for them it's second nature. From the time they're young, young farmers hang out with their parents and watch all their activities, absorbing the nuances of a very difficult lifestyle, making it their own by the time they are teenagers.  

It turns out that children all over the world likely learn tenacity from their parents, no matter what type of world they inhabit.  Fascinating research recently came out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Scientists gave infants a musical toy (with button to be depressed for music) and discovered that young children can learn tenaciousness simply by watching adults.  

"Across one study and a preregistered replication (182 babies in total), babies who had seen an adult persist and succeed pushed the button about twice as many times as those who saw an adult effortlessly succeed. In other words, babies learned that effort was valuable after watching just two examples of an adult working hard and succeeding.

"Part of what’s exciting about this finding is that the babies didn’t just imitate the adult’s actions; instead, they generalized the value of effort to a novel task. The experimenter never demonstrated pushing a button or trying to make music. Instead the babies learned from different examples of effortful actions (opening a container or unlatching a carabineer) that the new toy probably also required persistence."

The lessons here are wonderfully applicable to home and school.  Parents can emphasize their own repeated efforts before finally conquering various pieces of work, such as opening a can,  cutting down a branch, cleaning the floor, anything really.  A little dramatic flair won't hurt either.  Let children know how important, and fun, putting forth extra effort truly is.  As children age, the examples we set can become more complex.

In the Montessori classroom, children are constantly watching other children working all around them. And because the teachers do not intervene when a child is "struggling" with a piece of work, there are continual illustrations of children persevering without giving up. This is just one of the tremendous benefits of the Montessori classroom.  It's the extra effort, the last push so to speak, that gives children such great emotional and academic gains.  For children to see their peers, and slightly older friends, working hard for years on end builds a stalwart personality.  

Tenacity and determination are key ingredients for success in life, and the more examples a child sees, the more likely he or she is to embody the necessary grit to overcome life's many obstacles, which are really just opportunities to build resilience.    

MIT Research on Tenacious Toddlers



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