The Importance of Task Commitment

Today’s Venn diagram is Renzulli’s Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness:

What Makes Giftedness

Professor Joseph S. Renzulli is the Director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut and is one of the most highly respected experts in the field of gifted education.

I came across his Three-Ring Model in a 1985 edition of Education of the Gifted and Talented by Gary A. Davis and Sylvia B Rimm. The basic premise of the Three-Ring model is that gifted persons that make meaningful contributions to society are not just smart. Creativity is important as is Task Commitment.

Of the three criteria, task commitment stands out to me as the one that is most needed in our young people and most difficult to foster. Task commitment is the time and energy spent learning and perfecting skills within a specific area. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, documents the 10,000 hour rule. Across various fields from sports to music to chess to computers to industry, putting in a cumulative 10,000 hours of study and practice is a necessary component for achieving excellence.

In their studies of Talent Development, Bloom and Sosniak have also documented the importance of strong task commitment. In their research, after age 12, individuals who excelled in their fields as adults were spending as much time per week on their talent field as their peers were spending watching TV. This information was published in 1981 before our many choices existed for teenage entertainment. Now our students can watch their favorite shows at any hour on the Internet. They  are in constant contact with their peers through email, texting, and Twitter. A constant stream of “must see” YouTube videos closely tie them into popular culture in real-time. It is far more difficult today than it was in the 70s and 80s for our youth to proactively find the motivation and discipline necessary to put in the time necessary to reach the highest level of accomplishment in their chosen area of interest.

How much time are our talented students wasting on instant gratification and what will be the long-term consequences for them individually and for our society?


Creating Powerful Habits, part 3

This summer I will be working with my three kids to instill some new, healthy habits that will hopefully last a lifetime. We will be testing out the latest research on habit creation. It suggests that to set a pattern of behavior there needs to be a trigger that simultaneously sparks a desire for a specific reward and starts the action pattern to get to the reward. For example, donuts arriving at the office triggers a mouth-watering craving and before you know it, you are half way through your first donut.

The last three weeks I have attempted to set a new habit for myself of jogging first thing in the morning, three mornings a week. I am not a runner and have not been exercising regularly so this is a challenge. Using what I have learned, I first set the schedule and tried to make the behavior pattern as simple as possible. Running clothes are by the bed, the route is set, the time is set. Variables and choices need to be eliminated as much as possible to create a specific habit. The mere process of making a choice is mentally draining and diminishes the will power I need to get out the door and start my run. Habits in a way are the exact opposite of thoughtful choice. We can make a thoughtful choice to create or change a habit but the habit itself is automated.

In my attempt to set this behavior pattern the challenge is getting out the door. Once I am on the path all I need to do is run the pattern. I’m still working on setting the proper reward. Because scent is such a power trigger, I change-up the shampoo and soap in the shower on days when I run. I am also tracking and documenting the runs in detail so I can visually see the pattern I’m creating.

I am highly motivated to set my new jogging habit. I doubt the kids will be personally motivated to create the habits I choose. That means setting a simple behavior pattern and consistent, high value rewards will be key. Although I won’t finalize my choices for new habits to instill until school is out, my short list for all three kids includes:

  • Daily morning exercise and/or stretching
  • Daily morning face washing and application of sunscreen
  • Morning bed making
  • Evening bedroom straightening

Of course each of the above is just an idea. To make them habits the specific behaviors need to be broken down into detailed actions that can be consistently replicated with valuable, self-reinforcing rewards at the end of each habit.

Now here is where it gets interesting when trying to instill lifelong habits in kids. Frequently adults turn to the easy rewards of treats (usually some form of sugar) or money when trying to encourage kids. Our local public elementary schools consistently use candy to encourage the younger kids and then candy and fake money (that can be spent on donated toys and treats) in the older grades. However, in order for a habit to be internalized, I suspect the reward also needs to be internalized. Rewards for habits that last a lifetime need to be rewards that last a lifetime and work for kids living at home, young adults on their own with limited resources, and older adults. Candy is cheap but we really don’t want another generation growing up fat  because they “deserve” the candy bar. Empty calories are not a good reward. While working hard as an adult might lead to more income, it is not something that easily translates into a reliable reward. For instance, I think my run this morning was a $100 effort but I’m still waiting on that reward.

I need to develop rewards that are highly reinforcing for the kids and will last a lifetime. Any ideas?

Attachment parenting and helicopter parenting

The latest Time Magazine story on attachment parenting is creating some buzz probably due to the controversial and a bit disturbing picture they chose for the cover. The article gives a brief overview of attachment parenting and its major founder, Dr. William Sears.

Most of the time, including in the Time article, when people talk about attachment parenting they focus on how mothers parent infants and toddlers. The principles of attachment parenting are that parents, and especially mothers, should interact with their infants and children positively, consistently, and lovingly at all times of the day and night. Attachment parenting pushes breastfeeding and co-sleeping and having the parents (again, usually the mother) available to feed, sooth and comfort the infant 24×7 as required by the infant. While lip service is given to striving for a balance in personal and family life, the clear message is that once a woman becomes a mother, her life needs to revolve around her baby with the baby calling all the shots. Attachment parenting preaches that if the mother does not respond instantly to her baby’s cries for attention and food, the baby may become damaged and have difficulty forming meaningful and loving relationships later in life.

As the infant grows into a toddler, attachment parenting continues to stress that interactions with the child only be positive. If the child is misbehaving, parents are to distract, redirect and strive to understand what the child is trying to communicate with their negative behavior. Parents are to work out solutions with their children instead of punishing the bad behavior. Parents are not to impose their will on children.

What happens then when the infant and toddler raised in a positivity infused bubble goes out into the real world?  The world does not automatically re-arrange itself around each precious child. Like it or not, expectations will exist for the kids to behave even when they are upset. They may have negative consequences for bad behavior. Rules will be created and enforced without the child being consulted. After such a cushy, positive experience for the first few years of life, the child will be in for a rude awakening.

What is the devoted attachment parent to do to protect the child? My guess is that the attachment parents become helicopter parents. If the infant is damaged permanently by being allowed to “cry it out” after the parents have diligently tried everything else (food, diaper change, a cuddle) and need a break, then obviously the elementary school kid will be irreparably harmed if they can’t acquire enough Easter eggs during a hunt and the college student will not survive if their parent doesn’t step in to chat with their professors about their papers and test scores.

Of course on the surface this is ridiculous. Humans have thrived for generations with children being raised with clear expectations and enough freedom to succeed and fail on their own. The science on attachment parenting is at best a hodgepodge of research combining the rather obvious negative effects of extreme neglect with some studies on parent-child bonding in late elementary school and middle school. Attachment parenting is not the only way to create a parent-child bond and the attachment parenting proponents seem are sensationalizing research and preying on parental guilt.

The ideas of attachment parenting have become ubiquitous in parenting literature since Dr. Sear’s, The Baby Book was first published in 1992. Over the last 20 years there has been a growing social experiment with attachment parenting. Now the first wave of children raised by mothers and fathers practicing this extreme version of parental nurturing are in college and the work force and the picture is no longer quite so positive.

There is growing evidence that children of overly involved parents suffer from insecurity, a lack of independence, anxiety, depression, poor problem-solving skills, low confidence, and poor self-esteem. These are the young workers that can’t think on their own and need enthusiastic praise all the time, even for minor efforts. Since they have never been allowed to discover they can survive failure, they are terrified of it. Scared of disappointing themselves and others they are unable to embrace their lives as independent adults. It is time to start acknowledging the possible negative effects of attachment and helicopter parenting and bring expectations, consequences, and balance back into our family lives.




Creating Powerful Habits, part 2

Knowing we have a responsibility to help our kids develop good habits begs the question, which good habits?

The list of habits we can instill runs the gamut from regular toothbrushing to standing to the side when the elevator first opens. It is impossible for us to foster all good habits so we much choose the most effective ones that will have the greatest impact.

According to Paul O’Neill of Alcoa and others in Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, in businesses there are certain keystone habits that can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits can work the same in individuals. So which habits are keystone habits?

Keystone habits that research has shown trigger other good habits include:

  • regular exercise
  • eating dinner together as a family
  • making your bed every morning
  • eating breakfast

The above master habits can help people eat better, become more productive, show more patience, use credit cards less frequently, feel less stressed, have greater emotional control, and more confidence.

I’m betting to the above list we can add a few more such as:

  • wearing sunscreen daily
  • a behavioral pattern for handling and working through frustration and problem solving
  • looking people in eye when talking to them
  • maintaining an organized work area
  • a habitual system for working on and tracking long-term projects as daily or weekly activities

What other important habits should we help our kids develop and how can we do so?