How to Teach Your Kids the Three P’s

While you may be in the midst of teaching your Minis the ABC’s, there is one important letter you won’t want to miss. We asked the author of WHAT GREAT PARENTS DO: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive by Erica Reischer, Ph.D. for a few insider tips from her new book and what did she give us? The three P’s!

Many parents tell their kids, “You can do anything!” Of course we want to encourage our children to pursue their interests and not be limited by society’s view of their capabilities. At the same time, telling kids that they can do anything is not really truthful and may have unexpected downsides.

It’s not true, for example, that anyone can be a professional basketball player or a fashion model, and not everyone can win a Nobel Prize or be a Supreme Court justice. We are all limited in particular ways by our genetic endowment and by the statistical realities of competition. In addition, luck and chance play a much larger role in life outcomes, including success, than we often acknowledge.

Research also shows that when we create very ambitious goals for ourselves, those goals can become harmful— for example, leading to unethical behavior in order to meet those ambitious goals or leading us to feel like a failure when we don’t achieve them.


Telling kids that they can do anything creates the vision without the road map. It implies they should set a lofty goal, but gives no information about how to achieve it. Better to acknowledge that significant accomplishments will be challenging to achieve, and that luck plays a key role in life, and then give kids a road map for the part they can play in advancing their goals. I call this road map, “the three P’s.”

So instead of telling kids they can do anything, teach them the three P’s: practice, patience, and perseverance.

Practice. Because effort coupled with feedback is critical to developing mastery and achieving excellence.

Patience. Because mastery and meaningful accomplishment happen over a long time frame.

Perseverance. Because obstacles are likely and setbacks are common in any endeavor.

Emphasize to your kids that success is defined by effort and step-by-step progress, not by comparison with others. As Thomas Edison supposedly said, after a colleague discovered [him] at his workbench surrounded by the results of thousands of hours’ worth of failed experiments: “I’ve tried everything. [But] I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work!”

TRY THIS: Imagine your child is struggling with science homework and exclaims in frustration: “I can’t do this!” Rather than respond, “Yes, you can, let me show you,” you might say something like this instead: “Yes, science can be challenging so it’s normal that you’re struggling with it right now. The more time and effort you spend on it, the easier it will get.” Then support your child by answering his questions about the work as best you can, without giving him the answers.

Similarly, when you see someone who demonstrates a high level of mastery or excellence, such as a professional sports player or an accomplished musician, you might say something like this: “Wow, she is a fantastic tennis player. I’ll bet she’s spent many years and thousands of hours practicing.”

Excerpted from WHAT GREAT PARENTS DO: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive by Erica Reischer, Ph.D. © 2016 by Erica Reischer. TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

About the Author:
Erica Reischer, Ph.D., is the author of WHAT GREAT PARENTS DO: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive. A clinical psychologist and parent educator based in Oakland, CA, she holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago in psychology and human development, and is an honors graduate of Princeton University. A former consultant with McKinsey & Company, Dr. Reischer sits on the advisory board for and leads popular parenting classes and workshops at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Habitot Children’s Museum, and the University of California. Her writing about children and families appears in Psychology Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. Learn more at

Opening Image: Jenn Emerling for Mini Magazine