The Myth Of “Practice Makes Perfect” Exposed

When our children are born, we often think ahead to what they will be like.  Will they be artistic, athletic, analytical?  Will they share our interests and passions?

Whether we intend to or not, as parents we often push our interests on our children, and secretly hope they will excel at skills or talents we have developed ourselves.  We love to hear, “Like mother, like daughter,” or “Like father, like son.” It makes us beam with pride at the little versions of ourselves.

Or, alternately, we may have dreamed of being a great artist, musician, or scientist and either did not have the natural ability to do so, or due to life circumstances, had to abandon our pursuit of a talent we were passionate about.

This is where parents must be aware of what truly motivates their children.  Are we encouraging our children to develop a talent they are passionate about, or are we forcing them to conform to practicing a skill that we lack or pursuing a dream that we were not able to bring to fruition?

We may push our children to be the best at everything, whether they are interested or not.  Was Dad a football star in high school?  Then, certainly his son must want to pursue the game. This is the trap we must avoid falling into — instead encouraging our children to develop their own individual passions as the unique human beings they are.

U.S. News Health reported:

A parent cannot make a child like something, embrace it and experience feelings that this is something he or she not only wants to do, but wants to be. That kind of desire and drive must come from within the child. In fact, it is when a child can really identify with others who have a specific talent, and the child really believes he or she could excel at this skill in the future, that the child’s brain is truly stimulated and the child is drawn to a particular interest.

Often parents think even if their child seems disinterested in a particular activity, they will learn to like it if they stick with it.  We are all guilty of telling our kids, “just do it for this year, and then if you don’t like it, you can quit.”

The old adage “practice makes perfect” is not true.  Studies have found that while practice can make a child competent at a skill, it is true passion that creates talent — scientists have even found that passion for an activity creates a rise in dopamine in the brain, enhancing neuropathic connections and making a skill become second-nature to the brain.

U.S. News Health continued:

In pursuit of this outcome, parents tend to sign kids up for many activities, particularly those activities they think are going to be important and valuable and that they imagine their kids will love. The reality, however, is that what resonates for a parent may or may not interest the child. In addition, there are only so many hours in a day. Children who are overscheduled tend to feel highly stressed and have no mental energy left for exploration, curiosity and creative thinking, the very building blocks for developing a true talent.

Every brain is a little bit different, and life experiences add to the biological foundation for specific attributes, weaknesses and affinities. Children need time and space to explore and be exposed to different areas of interest in more minimal ways, so that they’re able to discover what they’re truly passionate about. Giving them the opportunity to pursue these passions, as they discover them, will help them to determine and develop their talents.

While we do not want to overload our children with activities, it is a good idea to introduce them to many different opportunities to explore their true talents.

Instead of signing children up for an activity involving a long-term commitment, it is best to let them try short workshops, summer day camp programs, or even one-time classes offered by local community centers or libraries.  In this way, your child can get a taste of many different experiences and find one they may want to focus on in-depth.

And when our children are excited about a particular activity and want to excel in it, there are several things parents can do to foster their interest and nurture their talents.

When a child is passionate about something, they will want to practice and improve, but they require patience and praise to avoid becoming discouraged and abandoning something they may really have great potential for.

U.S. News Health also reported:

The type of practice required to develop a talent is also very important. Studies have found that the praise of effort and not the praise of natural ability makes a world of difference. This is because praise of ability leads children to be so geared toward success that they stop taking risks and challenging themselves for fear of making a mistake. But it’s actually the mistakes that provide the opportunity for the most learning and improvement. Furthermore, it’s the kids who see making mistakes as a good thing (because they provide the opportunity to learn) who tend to practice more, which results in high talent development.

While practice time focused on hard work and analyzing mistakes in an area of interest are important, slow practice is also key. By slowing down and breaking any ability into small pieces, something can be perfected and then later sped up. This means that when a child does gravitate toward a talent they truly enjoy, the child needs to spend the kind of time practicing that skill that leaves minimal time for other activities.

Parents are a child’s first teachers, and greatest cheerleaders.  At a base level, children have a deep need to please their parents.  When a parent shows encouragement and praise for a child’s hard work, they are likely to practice even harder to master a task.

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Above all, encourage a talent approached with passion by your child, and be willing to accept and move on when a child does not share interest in an activity you wished for them to pursue.

PBS Parents reported:

When we praise a child’s intelligence, we’re telling her that status is the name of the game, and she reacts by taking fewer risks. When we praise effort, however, kids become more inclined to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them—the essence of deep practice and learning.

It’s not easy to practice deeply—it requires passion, motivation, persistence, and the emotional fuel we call love. New research is showing us that when it comes to motivation, we are all born with the neurological equivalent of hair triggers. When a child’s identity becomes intertwined with a goal, the trigger fires, and a tsunami of unconscious motivational energy is released. It’s not genes that made these kids succeed, it’s the fuel contained inside a tiny idea.

As with everything else in parenting, loving and supportive guidance, listening to our children, and teaching them that it’s okay to make mistakes is key.

Be their advocate, their support, and their encouragement — and as was reported earlier by Mommy Underground, be vigilant not to sabotage their success with your own self-interests.

This is a lesson that applies to many aspects of our parenting journey, and with the right guidance, your child’s talents and self-esteem will flourish.