Persistence predicts success

Preschoolers who concentrate, follow directions and persist with a difficult game are much more likely to succeed in school, according to an Oregon State study that followed children from preschool through age 21.

Parents were asked to watch how long the children would play with one particular toy while at home, while teachers were instructed to give the class a task and then monitor which toddlers gave up and which ones kept persevering until they had completed it.

“Our study shows that the biggest predictor of college completion wasn’t math or reading skills, but whether or not they were able to pay attention and finish tasks at age four,” said researcher Megan McClelland. These skills can be taught, she said.

This reminds me of the Stanford marshmallow study:  Four-year-olds who could delay gratification and wait for the second marshmallow did much better in later years than the kids with less self-control.

To what extent can parents teach persistence, concentration and self-control to their children? How much of that reflects inborn personality and temperament?

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    This calls for an expensive program which ignores the chicken-egg question.

  2. Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. – Edison 1903

    Or as my physics profs used to say – the amount of learning is directly proportional to the blood on the wall – from banging your head into it.

  3. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Wow– so my 4 year old who refuses to take a break from Legos long enough to use the restroom isn’t immature, he’s an academic genius!

    Or he just really, really likes Legos…

    On the other hand, I HAVE been places with the kids who are not ADHD but can’t persevere at anyone thing. It makes me want to pull my hair out— My ADHD brood can spend hours on a single museum exhibit (i.e. weather or trains at the MSI in Chicago, Dinosaurs at the Indy Children’s museum) and these other kids get bored instantly….

  4. They used to call it the Puritan or Protestant work ethic and it allowed generations of Americans, including new immigrants, to succeed in school, at work and in life. Even my DH’s Catholic ES explicitly taught the virtues therein (although never identifed as such). Hard work, persistence, deferred gratification and self-control work wonders – especially if the self-control and deferred gratification are extended to making sure there is no procreation before a job and marriage. That used to be the message from parents, churches, schools and communities – along with good manners and law-abiding behavior. The grandmothers watching from windows and porches reported infractions and parents applied consequences.

  5. Cranberry says:

    These skills can be taught, she said.


    “How’s your son?

    “I don’t know what went wrong. O.K., he can’t really read, but he did so well in his marshmallow tutoring at age 3, and he really demonstrates his persistence at Halo and WOW.”

  6. Yes, they can….

    But usually by parents, which is another topic.

  7. I think that lots of the “teaching” that can and should be done by parents, prior to kindergarten entry, is simply expecting kids to wait for certain things (meals, snacks, outings, stories read or told to them etc), taking turns, playing on their own, starting what they finish (puzzles, legos, stringing beads etc). Even prior to kindergarten, kids can learn how to hold and use pencils and eating utensils, dress themselves, tie shoes – all these things are initially quicker and easier for parents to do, but kids learn valuable lessons by being encouraged to persist to success. It’s the same with learning to write letters, numbers and their name.