Perhaps one of the hardest things to experience as a parent is watching your child not put in the effort needed to succeed or achieve their potential. I’ve been through this many times: it pains me to see my kids slacking back when I know how capable they are. How can we, as parents, help our children understand the power of effort?

But the first question is why do we even need to make an effort? Why isn’t life easy, flowing effortlessly? It seems as if by design we need to stretch ourselves and overcome things in order to make great things happen. Why is that?

Let’s say that just like in every game, we have an “opponent” also in the game of life. In our lives the “opponent” is a Voice – this being the voice inside our head that tells us to take the easy way out, that we are not good enough, that we can’t or care too much about what we look like to others at the expense of not being ourselves, or not share our last cookie with anyone else… Yet the Opponent Voice is not our enemy! Imagine shooting goals in soccer with no goalie. There would be no challenge! No improvement. So, really, we can learn to see our “opponents” as our allies in becoming our best self and build resilience in facing challenges head-on.

But the truth is that our Opponent Voice provides us with constant excuses for not being successful. It is like a professional saboteur that tries to bring us down at every turn. I’ve found that we CAN overcome this Inner Voice by taking small steps: identifying exactly what is hard for us, becoming aware of what we are afraid of, and then setting realistic goals to move us past these obstacles. A great approach is asking: How can we find little ways to achieve more today than we did yesterday?

To help in this process, here is an an Interactive Family Exercise you can do together with your child to discover the power of effort. Start by creating a three-column table with the headings, as below:

It is hard for me to…

My Opponent Voice is telling me to…

The steps I will take to overcome…

The key to the exercise’s success is your willingness to go through the identifying process openly with your children. Your kids cannot feel that they are the only ones who struggle. By being honest and open, you can show them that you are going through challenges every day, just like they are. You are also helping them gain valuable self-awareness that will serve them far into the future.

Keep the charts available for daily reference, reinforcement, and tweaking. A reward system can be a great addition to mark the achievement of goals along the way.

Here are some additional tips to encourage effort in your children:

  • Make a point to say something positive whenever they put forth an effort (too often we only comment when they don’t).
  • Share a personal challenge you’ve had, and show how making the effort helped you overcome–and even benefit–from it.
  • Praise the act of making an effort, not just the good results.
  • Give lots of love and loads of patience. Your kids (and us) are a work in progress. Your love helps them persevere.

There is no better gift you can give your child than the ability to face challenges bravely while providing them the tools to overcome them.

The concept of the Opponent in the game if life, as the force that pushes us constantly to become a better version of ourselves, can be explored further in the online SFK course Winning in the Game of Life™.

What Students & Parents Say About The SFK Course


A family in Boise, Idaho, doing the SFK program together.

Brooke & Brodin, Idaho

A family in Sydney, Australia doing the SFK program together.

Julia & Jack, Australia

Monica, a “Big Sister” , doing the SFK program with her young mentees.

Monica, , a “Big Sister” Miami, FL,

Interested in learning more? Check out the SFK course here.