Dear Dr. Linda,

A while back you wrote a column explaining why some kids get poor grades and you mentioned that they don’t practice enough. Even though I’m now a grandfather, I remember high school and college and in order to do well, I had to practice. Kids today don’t seem to realize how important practicing (studying, reviewing, homework) is. Just look at athletes. They practice. Look at music students. They practice. Thank you for mentioning this in your column.

Steve N.

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Dear Steve,

You’re right. If you want to do well, practice is critical. The old saying “Practice makes perfect” has been around for a long time. In fact, this proverb has been traced back to the 1550s-1560s, when its form was ‘use makes perfect.’ The Latin version is uses promptos facit. It was first attested in the United States in the “Diary and Autobiography of John Adams” (Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, Gregory Y. Titelman).

Here we are hundreds of years later and this proverb still holds true. People in the field of sports need to practice continuously. Musicians and actors need to practice continuously. These particular professions, and virtually all others, depend on practicing. The people who went into these careers understood and accepted the fact that to be in that profession they would spend hours each day practicing the skills they were developing.

The problem, when it comes to telling children and teens that they need to practice, is that they did not choose being a student as a profession. I think we often fail to demonstrate and communicate how learning the skills may be important to them. Believe it or not, there are students who truly enjoy learning, are goal-oriented and want those good grades because they understand the connection to their goals. Making good grades and succeeding in school makes them feel good because they see their own progress. They are students in the true sense of the word. They practice academic skills just as they practice dribbling or batting, singing songs in chorus, playing instruments in the band, or learning their lines for a spring play. They derive pleasure from seeing the results of their labor.

Not understanding the connection, the majority of students don’t enjoy learning, and when a particular subject is difficult for them, the last thing they want to do is spend even more time “practicing” it. And these are the students who need the practice even more. Eventually, when they go to college or technical school and decide on a major, they take courses they love and see the connection between what they learn and landing a job in that field. Then, they will practice. They will want to practice.

So, if you have a child who refuses to study, which means hours of practicing, remember that they did not choose to be a student. To make matters worse, they are under pressure to do well in this “career” they not only didn’t choose but dislike.

Instead of wasting your breath on the old proverb, “Practice makes perfect,” talk to your child about what he or she wants to become as an adult. Investigate with him or her what he or she has to do in order to achieve this goal. Discuss the fact that in order to achieve it, he may need to get certain grades now and to get those grades, he’ll have to practice. And if he believes you, he may not want to practice, but he’ll understand why it’s important.

Dr. Linda