Kate Roberts Ph.D.

Savvy Parenting

Five Parent Behaviors That Role-Model Effort and Luck

Parents teaching of "luck" influences' a child's thinking on effort and chance

Posted Mar 16, 2014

Along with the annual St Patty’s day celebrations comes the idea of luck. What is luck and how do we get luck?

One of the best definitions of luck comes from Oprah who said “luck is when opportunity meets preparedness”. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell views luck similarly in his analysis of highly successful people. While he relies on a “10,000 hour practice rule” as a benchmark for success, he also outlines other components including timing, exposure, and birth date, all of which can be viewed as luck that contributes to achievement in highly successful people.

Parent communication with children regarding the concept of "luck" factors into whether children view their successes as attributable to effort or chance. Although luck may play a role, parents need to emphasize first and foremost, strong effort as the primary influencer of positive outcome and downplay the impact of luck. Children, and even adolescents, gravitate towards magical thinking and may look at a successful person and believe “I’ll be lucky like them.”

When children experience the connection between effort and outcome, they develop discipline, achievement, and mastery that can then position them to take advantage of opportunities that will make them lucky.

Therefore, regardless of how much luck is involved in any parents’ lives, it behooves parents to minimize the role of luck when discussing their successes. While parents need to verbally downplay the luck concept, they can role model the behaviors that are associated with effort and being a lucky person.

Here are five examples:

 1.Willingness to take risks:

Believe and model for children that when you try something new or engage in an activity, that you will be successful. The more you believe in yourself, the greater chance of success and therefore the greater likelihood to find new opportunities or to encounter chance occurrences.

 2.Maintain a positive outlook:

People who try new things are more likely to encounter opportunities that may dovetail nicely with developed skills. Parents can role model out of their comfort zone behavior, whenever possible. Whether it’s taking up a new sport, leading a new committee at school, cooking a new food or starting a new job; these all demonstrate to children that their parents are willing to take risks before they know the outcome in order to reach a goal. The more parents take risks, the more children will be comfortable with risks.

 3.Be opened minded:

Model cognitive flexibility and that will allow you to stumble into new approaches to tasks that may help you reach your goals. If you are overly focused on one way of doing things, you will miss chances that may lead to luck.

 4.Ask for help:

Be flexible enough to reach outside yourself and ask for input from those who can offer advice, experience, and insight. Just by asking you may gain insight, and you may even land new opportunities.

 5.Be brave enough to fail:

How will you know if something will work for you if you don’t try? Failing doesn’t leave you in a worse position than never trying. When you fail you have the added experience of knowing that something won’t work for you and this allows you to focus more closely on what will.

As parents, role modeling these behaviors in your daily life can be an essential teaching tool for children. Once children are old enough to think abstractly, parents can discuss these behaviors with them in the context of what worked and what didn’t. An example may be something like “I was considering not be on that committee and now I landed a new job as a result.” Or “It’s lucky I was on that committee now I know for certain that I never want to run for school committee.”

Parents can emphasize that sometimes when they do things, in fact often, they don’t know how they will turn out, but that they do them anyway. Often times this is a big part of what makes them lucky!

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