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6 Things You Should Do to Foster Perseverance

June 22, 2010

Perseverance. Determination. Stick-to-itiveness.

The first two bring to mind motivational posters seen in the cubicles of the NBC comedy, The Office. The third is one of those pesky-words from a basal text-book I read in fifth grade.  Neither of which call to mind young children. But I know (because I see it every day) that children are persistent and determined, especially with the careful guidance of adults.

As I reflect on the year I’ve had, on all of my wee ones and many of the older children I know in our school and elsewhere, they do exhibit the kind of perseverance that manifests itself in later life on the playing field, in the board room and in personal relationships. I bet you know kids like this, too.

Preschoolers and Prek children have left the comfortable and safe nest called home all year to take those first steps towards independence at school and beyond.  By now, they’ve acquired the skills and courage to hop out of the car, mosey onto the playground and care for belongings with very little assistance from adults. They are articulating their wishes and needs and have the neophyte skills for basic conflict resolution.  The feed themselves snack and clean up. They’ve learned hopscotch, one-to-one correspondence, to predict what might happen in a book and to try new things with music and art.  Life might be easier to hanging out at home, but through the year, they have showed up ready to take on new challenges and gain new skills. They’ve tried and tried again. They’ve made dozens of baby steps for which the sum total is a magnificent step in their growth and development.  The same sort of recap could be made for most children at any grade level.

How to foster and develop persistence in young children? Same basic steps as in other traits to foster in kids.

1. Name it.
Perseverance  As Jamie Lee Curtis says in Big Words for Little People, “PERSEVERANCE is to try and to try, even though you might want to give up and cry. When doing a puzzle that puzzles your mind, you persevere till the right piece you find.”  When you notice your child sticking to a task, point it out. “Hey, I see you turned that puzzle piece around and around until it fit. That’s perseverance!” Or with older children, “I notice that you made some changes to your essay that really support your topic sentence.” Clear, specific, honest.

2. Teach self-talk
What does perseverance sound like or feel like inside? It’s often hard to recognize and even harder to develop without coaching.  What phrases resonate for you? For your child? How about:

  • “I think I can, I think I can.”
  • “Don’t give up the ship!”
  • “Try, try again!”

With older kids (9-10) surf the net together to find quotes or biographies of folks your child admires – politicians, athletes, philanthropist. There is much written about such persevering people like Michael Jordan, Helen Keller, Gary Paulson, Amelia Earhart and dozens of others.

3. Help Set a Goal
This is a learned skill many adults still struggle with.  Sit down and talk about goals your child has or ones you share.

  • establish baby steps so that by starting small, they are attainable
  • build autonomy by having your child put for the effort, record progress, or solve new problems which arise.
  • be open to possibilities or to see things differently; let your child take the lead and don’t be wedded to an outcome you are seeking
  • be the reality check for your child. Children are notorious for seeing things larger than they are and need help keeping things in perspective. If they want to raise $1,000 for the Red Cross, lay some ground work to explain what a large undertaking that is and help pare down the project and goals to a more attainable scale.
  • Applaud effort – not perfection. ‘Nuf said.

4. Positive Spin – “Believe and  you can achieve”
If a child is to believe they have the capacity, skills and the confidence to meet goal, they need to see, hear and feel that you believe that they can accomplish that goal – especially when their confidence is wavering. Be watchful. Listen. Notice. Share clear, specific and positive ways that you observe them putting forth effort and accomplishing small steps toward the larger goal.  This will likely fuel them into taking the next step, too.

5. Provide Reminders

It’s no news that children have short memories. And if they’re tweens/teens, remember their brain is rewiring itself for adult life and at times, they are neurologically younger than they appear.   What seems like a fabulous and extensive project one day, could easy be cast aside or forgotten about in a day or a week. By breaking big projects into small steps, they can work little by little and day by day. Provide reminders about the big goal and prompts to ignite their interest in the small steps. And it’s okay to take a breather from a bigger project; in fact, scheduled breaks help children learn to sustain the energy to engage in long term projects and learning.

6. Set Up Supports
Rome wasn’t built in a day. We all have set backs.  Remind your child that once a task has begun, it’s important to see it through completion (there are always exceptions, but be sure to make abandoning a goal the exception and not the habit or rule). Use tips 1-5 to talk about the smaller steps that lead to a larger goal. Use examples from your own life where you’ve felt like giving up but persevered. Or call on those characters from the good books you’ve found.  There’s an old Chinese proverb, repeated often by Lance Armstrong, reminds us, “fall down 7 times to get up 8.”   Resilience is another skill to foster (see earlier blog).

All kids have passions. Determining what that passion is and how to authentically support it can be the rub for parents. Ask, talk, listen to what your child is passionate about and find out what has deep meaning for them. Find a project for them to pursue this summer and practice these steps to fostering perseverance.  Summer perfect time to tap their passions, scaffold learning of new skill and let kids show their ability to persevere.

One Comment leave one →
  1. David permalink
    June 23, 2010 11:55 am

    I’m on one of those secondary gigs right now, co-leading a robotics camp for kids entering 5th to 8th grades. It can be a frustrating activity for kids. (This is the first year we have not had one kid crying because he or she has run out of strategies. But it’s only week 1.) I marvel at how much perseverance these kids have. Where does it come from? My sense is, mostly from home, from parents who are asking their children the type of questions you have in your blog.

    I wonder if we, in schools, inadvertently work against fostering perseverance. The tasks we give students are short, well-defined. The path to completion takes no self-sufficiency.

    The robotics work is 10% instruction. The rest is up to the kids. I find that if I ask them questions (“Your robot car doesn’t go straight? What would make a car curve to the right if the steering wheel was straight?”), kids can get back on track most of the time.

    That great feeling of “I did it myself!” is addictive. Kids naturally take on more challenging projects.

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