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Teaching young kids persistence

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By Leslie Crawford

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, kids 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 settling down to a chore or homework. By explaining that they’re strengthening their minds and bodies to be ready for the task at hand, 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 your spelling!”). 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.

Push them ... just a little

This is one of the trickiest but most essential ways to work out children’s persistence muscles. It’s tempting for older kids who do something well to stay in their comfort zone and never venture beyond that point. Push them to try just a little bit harder next time. For this purpose, kitchen timers are a parent’s best friend. So if your kids practiced their music for 10 minutes this week, set the timer for 15 minutes the following week. Don’t forget to offer words of encouragement: “You did great practicing 10 minutes. Let’s see if we can make this a little more challenging for you.”

But don’t make the expectations too great

While you do want to encourage kids to try harder, don’t make your expectations exceed their ability to succeed. If you see your children failing more often than not and feeling the sting of disappointment every time, ask yourself if you are setting the bar too high. Is the soccer team too advanced for your kids? Are you so much better at Scrabble Jr. that your children can never win? If the answer is yes, it’s time to lower the bar so your children experience just the right challenge.

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 terrified of swimming but stayed with your lessons and ended up loving them?” 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 stuck with your homework even though it was hard. You should be really proud.”

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.