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Why "Do As I Say, Not As I Do" Doesn't Work

Why "Do As I Say, Not As I Do" Doesn't Work

That much-favored, hypocritical saying bandied about by lazy authoritarians, “Do as I say, not as I do,” never seems very convincing to any kid. And now, research has demonstrated that the exact opposite is actually what motivates kids to tackle tough situations. In fact, when adults communicate, “Do as I do,” it’s inspiring to young minds, especially if the doing takes effort.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—an institution that regularly turns out award-winning mathematicians, rocket scientists, engineering marvels and world leaders—did a study published in the journal Science that showed kids as young as 15 months who observe adults struggle at different tasks before succeeding will try harder at their own tasks, compared to kids who watch adults sail through their problems/tasks without any trouble. And other studies have found that a kind of persistence and toughness in the face of adversity predicts success more than IQ does.

So, folks, the pressure’s off: You don’t have to know how to put together that robot-in-a-kit right off the bat, or put that car seat in the mini-van smoothly. That’s not how you teach your child what it takes to master a task. You teach, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” through your calm (no swearing) persistence. And, the researchers found, that’s amplified when you talk directly to your child, explain what you are trying to do, what worked—and what didn’t. Then, in a few years, your child can help you when you get stumped! Count on it.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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