Regular practice isn’t enough—kids need to learn how to improve. Here are 5 ways to encourage deliberate practice to keep doing their best and learn.
Deliberate practice is practice designed to improve specific skills you’re trying to master. You receive feedback and correct mistakes to improve your performance and strive for excellence.
Coined by psychologist Anders Ericsson, deliberate practice isn’t just clocking in hours of practice.
Sure, we can tell our kids to practice playing the piano for three hours every day. But they could still hit a plateau with their performance if they aren’t deliberate about what to improve.
How to encourage deliberate practice
So, how can we apply deliberate practice with helping our kids excel in a skill they’re interested in?
1. No sugar-coating or over-praising
Don’t sugar coat or over-praise your child for every little thing he does. If he shows you a so-so painting when you know he didn’t put much effort, don’t praise it.
And keep praise to a minimum and offer a narrative of what he just did (“You traced the letter ‘D'”). Then, when what he does deserves praise, focus on the effort. You might say, “Look at how you wrote the number 2!” versus “You’re so good at writing the number 2!”
2. Provide feedback
One of the best ways to instill deliberate practice is to offer feedback. Having your child practice on his own isn’t as useful as learning how to improve or correct himself.
Let’s say your preschooler is learning to write. Have him look at his work and say which ones are his favorites and which he can improve. Then, focus on that tiny improvement a few more times until he gets it just right.
Free play is important to discover and learn. But feedback is necessary if you want your child to improve a skill with deliberate practice.
It’s like me learning how to knit. Sure I could just hang out with friends and take a class or two for fun. I might even fiddle with it a few times on my own. But if I really wanted to be a serious knitter, I’d need to be aware of the places I need to improve so that I can.
3. Offer instruction
Showing your child how something works helps him learn the technicalities of what he’s trying to learn. Let’s say your child is learning how to write. Show him how to hold a pen closer to the tip so he has more control. Or how he needs to place the pen right above the dotted lines to trace.
4. Let kids struggle
Letting kids struggle is an effective way for them to test their comfort zones—the only way to master a skill. A child isn’t going to make leaps by playing the same piano piece they’re comfortable playing. Through challenge and struggle, they learn to excel beyond their comfort zone.
With deliberate practice, kids will at first feel discomfort over learning something new. But they’ll find the challenge enjoyable, especially once they master it.
5. Embrace mistakes
Mistakes show us what does and doesn’t work, offers a glimpse of how far we’ve come along, and, let’s face it, are unavoidable in life. Rather than hiding in shame, kids should see mistakes as normal steps that will lead them to their goals.
If your child makes mistakes, point it out matter-of-fact and either show him or ask him how he can improve.
Doing your best
The more your child practices, the better he gets. But practice itself isn’t always enough, especially if he’s trying to improve. And in order for him to use his time best, encourage him to make the next attempt better than what he has done in the past.
Learning a skill is pushing yourself to master more of it through deliberate practice.
Get more tips on how kids learn:
- Why It’s Not Good to Say Good Job (and What to Say Instead)
- How to Teach Our Kids to Embrace Mistakes
- Homework Tips for Parents: Crucial Mistakes You Should Definitely Avoid
- Teach Your Child the Value of a Job Well Done
- Here’s How to Address Your Child’s Failures
What are some ways you encourage deliberate practice and doing your best with your kids?