Here’s a tip for when you want your child to work hard at something: tell her to pretend she’s her favorite superhero while doing the task. Recent research on perseverance, published in the journal Child Development, suggests that it might just work.
In a study aptly named The “Batman Effect”: Improving Perseverance in Young Children, researchers tested to see what would make kids stick to a task given, even if the job was not fun or it was easier to quit, as explained in an article on the World Economic Forum.
“Children who were asked to reflect on the task as if they were another person were less likely to indulge in immediate gratification and more likely to work toward a relatively long-term goal,” the authors wrote.
For it, researchers gave 180 children aged 4 and 6 years old a boring computer task and asked them to do it for 10 minutes. And, if they got bored, they had the option to head to a nearby room and play a game on an iPad. It’s a setup not unlike the one many parents have to deal with when trying to get kids to do homework.
The preschoolers were also split into three groups and given additional instructions. The first had to ask themselves “Am I working hard?” while doing the task, taking into consideration their thoughts and feelings while working. The second group was asked to think of themselves in the third person. If the child’s name was Hannah, she would ask, “Is Hannah working hard?”
The third group had to think of a hardworking person. They could choose from Batman, Bob the Builder, Rapunzel, and Dora the Explorer. Then, they dressed up as their chosen character and had to ask themselves the same question but with the name of their character, for example, “Is Batman working hard?”
During the experiment, the kids could move from the iPad to work. Through loudspeakers, the researchers reminded them of their additional instructions and were also told, “This is a very important activity and it would be helpful if you worked hard on this for as long as you could.”
The results may be as you think, parents. Some work was done, but there was more playing. “The kids spent 37% of their time on the ‘work’ task, and 63% on the iPad,” said WEF. “But those kids pretending to be superheroes ‘worked’ more than those who thought of themselves in the third person, and both of those groups did better than the kids who just thought of themselves as ‘me’.”
The kids in the third group showed perseverance, or the ability to stick to something despite difficulty. The task was boring and there was always the option of quitting to do something more fun, but perseverance which, in this case, may have just come in the form of Batman, helped the kids achieve their goal more than the others.
Perseverance is one of the key aspects of grit. More and more experts and researchers are turning to grit as one of the key predictors of a person’s success in life – even more than IQ. Said Angela Lee Duckworth, a pioneer in the study of grit, “Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality.”
So, the next time you want your preschooler to do “work,” try telling her to pretend she’s a superhero.