I'm the mother of two highly intelligent girls. With their high IQs (both clearly in the "superior" range), I don't have to worry about their success in life, right?
Oh, but I do. With my oldest, particularly. The fact that she's smart means that she catches on quickly to things. It also means that she's easily discouraged if she doesn't "get" it the very first time. This is especially true in math, where I've heard a couple of thousand times by now, "I DON'T WANNA DO THIS!!!!" (accompanied by kicking, tearing of homework sheets, hurling of pencils, etc.) My girl has smarts, but in the persistence department she needs some work. I was the same way. I distinctly remember throwing my algebra book through my bedroom window (which was closed at the time) when I was first introduced to the preposterous idea that letters and numbers could coexist in the same sentence. I shattered the windowpane that night, but it took quite a while for an essential truth to penetrate my somewhat thicker skull: sometimes you just have to keep trying, and trying, and trying....until you understand.
What made me think of this was an article in the November/December edition of Psychology Today, in which writer Peter Doskoch explores the topic of "grit" and the role it plays in a person's success. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center (headed by Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the world's best interviews--I know, because I've interviewed him) have done some analyses that suggest that only about a quarter of the differences between persons in job performance can be attributed to intelligence; the rest can be attributed to personality factors, creativity and luck. And the major factor in personality, they say, is persistence-i.e., grit. Being able to keep hammering away at something, it turns out, is just as important, maybe more so, than any innate gift. Most important, Doskoch writes, "helping children find their passion may turn out to be more important than addressing their academic weaknesses." Sometimes passion fosters perseverence, and sometimes it's the other way around, but however you get there, grit is an essential part of any successful person''s personality.
How do you teach this? Wish I knew. Role modeling helps, obviously, but other than that, I'm open to suggestions. With my oldest daughter, I know that the more I try to force her to go back and try something, the more resistant she'll become. But the other night, when she was clearly unable to figure out how to use a protractor, I let it slide until after she went to bed. Then I sat down and figured out a) the instructions her teacher had given her were confusing and b) the instructions on the little plastic protractor itself were quite simple. The next morning I took 30 seconds and said, "Look at this again," and showed her one example. "Oh," she said. Bingo. I had to lure her back into looking again, but when I did--she got it.
Maybe someday she'll learn to come back on her own.