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Teaching tykes persistence

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By Leslie Crawford

Nurture a hobby

Children who have a passion learn the pleasure of practicing and improving at something they love, says Borba. Support your children’s interests. Help them check out books at the library on subjects they love. Not only are they learning firsthand the value of mastering something through effort, they may also be preparing for their adult vocation.

Watch out for the “I can’t do it” triggers

Do your kids seem to blow up at a certain time of day? Often, says Borba, children this age get frustrated and give up at a task simply because they are tired, hungry, or just need some time to unwind. So make sure your children are well fed, get enough sleep, and have a chance to play before facing the task at hand. By explaining that they’re strengthening their minds and bodies, young kids will learn to fortify themselves before turning to a challenge.

Remember: Young kids often blow up when they can’t get something right. Avoid recrimination (“I told you this would be hard”) or reacting with your own, sometimes justifiable, anger (“Don’t yell at me just because you can’t do the puzzle!”). If you lose your cool, walk away for a moment. Also, suggest your children take a break — running around the house to “get the angries out” — then return after calming down.

Remind them of their successes

“I’ll never be able to do it!” Chances are you’ve heard your children utter this mournful cry of defeat. At times like these, make kids the hero of a story. Remind them of the triumphal times they had trouble doing well at something but kept their eyes on the goal and succeeded. “Remember when you were scared of starting preschool, but went anyway and ended up loving it and making good friends?” This kind of pep talk is often just what kids need to try, try again. And when your children hang in there, point it out. “You kept writing those numbers even though it was hard. You should be really proud.”

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from readers

"This article reinforces parenting ideas and skills on perserverence, stick-tuitiveness and how not to rescue your child. Thank you for sending me this article. I will definately apply these skills with my five year old son and work on giving positive pep talks when he wants to quit and gives up too easily on something he might just be trying out, but gets frustrated with. I like the idea of putting him in a story where he is the hero, and reminding him of times he has tried something and succeeded at it, though it wasn't easy"
"It is so amazing how we, as a society, find that the best practices for developing character, integrity, and generally good citizens, is by getting back to what was demonstrated in everyday life by parents, teachers, adults of earlier generations. This is not to say we do not still have generative individuals with us-- watch dogs of our moral and intellectual trends, but as the discussion implies, it seems necessary these days to ramp up the energy and resources in order to get these very basic life principles to our contemporary care givers, and as a natural consequence, our children. Simply put, children do learn by example; if you want your children to internalize a characteristic or pattern, demonstrate that pattern, on a regular basis,with integrity, and you will have achieved your objective. This is not a complex cognitive revelation. Persistence, conviction and a true moral compass is what brought us America."