Children Persist Less When Parents Take Over


By Michele W. Berger, Penn Today


According to research from Penn psychologists, kids ages 4 to 7 persevere longer when allowed to struggle through a challenging activity than if a grown-up steps in.

Watching a child show off newly mastered shoe-tying skills is often an exercise in parental patience. The normally quick task seems endless, particularly when motivated by any sort of underlying rush. But, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania, adults should resist the urge to step in—advice that goes far beyond tying shoes.

According to an observational study and two experiments conducted by psychologist Allyson Mackey and postdoctoral fellow Julia Leonard, children persist less when adults take over, findings the researchers published in the journal Child Development.

The work piggybacked on research from Leonard on how adults’ actions, outcomes, and words affect whether preschoolers persist through challenges or give up. “We’re trying to figure out which factors kids pay attention to when calibrating their effort,” she says. “We’ve previously shown that what made kids try hardest is watching an adult’s hard work lead to achievement, especially when that adult speaks to the value of the effort.”

For Mackey, an assistant professor in Penn’s Department of Psychology who runs The Changing Brain Lab, the latest study also stemmed partly from personal experience…more

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