The Importance of Perseverance

In my many years in the classroom, I had the opportunity to observe all types of personalities in young children. Each child came with her own basic personality traits - some children were more active while others were naturally calmer; some went racing into a new activity without hesitation while others stood along the periphery and watched for awhile before diving in. And I believe it is important to respect each child’s natural tendencies.

I know that some children are, by nature, less likely to get frustrated and more willing to try again when they initially fail. Others are immediately devastated when things don’t go as planned and walk away from the activity feeling defeated. Teaching a child with the second personality style to “hang in there” will take more patience from the adults in her life, but it is an important lesson to be learned.

Children give themselves messages

Children talk to themselves all of the time, through silent thoughts and observations. If we observe closely, we can guess with a good amount of accuracy what children are telling themselves. For example, a child who is easily frustrated may likely cry, throw or push away the upsetting activity, and refuse to try again. It is quite likely that this child is telling herself: “I’m not good at this. I’ll never do it. Even if I continue to try I will probably fail, so I won’t bother.” Of course, when this child gives up she loses opportunities to continue practicing and does not learn the skill. It is likely that she will fail the next time she attempts this activity, only reinforcing her previous message. A negative, self-fulfilling prophesy is established.

Alternatively, a child who is willing to stick with a new challenge, even when she is not immediately successful, is telling herself different messages. She is probably saying to herself: “This is hard, but if I keep trying I will get it right. I’m good at learning and doing things.” Of course, with repeated effort, even challenging skills can be mastered and it is very likely that this child succeeds. Once again, a child has reinforced her personal message, but now a positive self-fulfilling prophesy is established.

How to help children learn to persevere

Perseverance can be learned, and negative self messages can be turned into positive messages with experience and guidance. Try these tips for helping your child learn to try and try again!

  • Say aloud the “personal message” you would like your child to tell herself. Sit by her when she attempts something challenging. Acknowledge that this task is difficult and praise her willingness to try. Give her a message that she can learn to repeat to herself, such as:  “Wow! You are willing to try something new. It may be tough, but I know that with practice you will get it.”
  • Praise a child’s effort, rather than the product. “Boy, you worked for a long time on that drawing. That took a lot of patience. I’m proud of you. It is so colorful. Let’s hang it up on the door.”
  • Present your child with comfortable tasks that will build her confidence. When giving her a worksheet, for example, start with one that you believe she can complete easily. The worksheets on the School Sparks website progress from beginning level to more challenging within each section. Start with the easiest worksheets first. It will be fun to see your child’s face light up as she breezes through several comfortable worksheets.
  • Present challenges in the same format so that your child will feel comfortable. Worksheets with the same layout and directions are fun for children, because the repetition make them familiar. Children feel confident when they “know how to do it” because they’ve successfully completed a similar task at an earlier time. You will find that many of the School Sparks kindergarten worksheets have the same layout and directions specifically to help children feel confident and capable.
  • Present your child with appropriate challenges that build on previous skills and successes. As your child’s skill level increases, ask her to complete more challenging worksheets or activities. Remind her that she was successful earlier and encourage her to stay on task as she approaches more difficult work. Let her know that the new task is more challenging so that she will feel a sense of accomplishment when she succeeds. As the parent, it is your job to monitor your child’s skill level and present appropriately challenging tasks - those that can be completed with perseverance and effort. It is important to give your child opportunities to struggle slightly as she works toward mastering a new skill so that she learns to tell herself:  “I can do this if I stick with it and don’t give up!”
  • Show your child earlier work to clearly demonstrate her skill growth. Save and write the date on previously completed worksheets and keep them in a folder for easy access. Again, more verbal messages are helpful. “Look at your shaky lines when you first tried to complete the maze last month. You were just learning, then. You really practiced and now look at the smooth lines you just made. I’m so glad you kept trying. Practice makes perfect!”
  • Remind your child of experiences in which she succeeded with continued effort and persistence. Tuck these events in the back of your mind or jot them down in a little notebook so that you don’t forget them. Recognizing how perseverance led to success at previous times can motivate a child to press on when presented with a frustrating challenge. “You didn’t give up when you had a hard time learning to do a cartwheel. I know that you will learn to ride a two-wheeler with practice, too.”

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