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Teaching elementary schoolers 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 are having trouble with your time tables!”). If you lose your cool, walk away for a moment. Also, suggest your children take a break, 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 starting third grade but 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 stuck with your homework even though it was hard. You should be really proud.”

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

05/4/2010:
"Oh my goodness.....if this is not a good, relevant article. My daughter started cross country for her high school the summer after 8th grade. It was very hard to get her to complete a 1/2 mile run; now she is running both track and cross country and is one their leading runners in distance and relays....what a little persistance can do for a child's self esteem and their health! So glad I pushed a little......signed her up .....very scary sometimes because she wanted to quit so often, but luckily the kids on the team are some of nicest and sweetest and best students scholastically in the school....very good for the social skills development department, mood swings of teenagerhood, and of course her runner's physique is her signature look. Endorphins are a good thing!"
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