Despite my child being only 3 years old, she has already learned a handful of phrases that are frustrating for any parent. “I don’t like that.” “I don’t want to do that.” And the newest and least favorite of mine, “I can’t do it!” As her mother, this last phrase is the most disheartening to me. One of the most important life skills kids can learn is perseverance, especially in light of studies showing that in many ways, it’s more valuable than having an innate ability to do something. Kids who embrace perseverance have more confidence, a sense of accomplishment and will carry it in to adulthood. While my daughter certainly won’t be struggling with pulling her pants on her entire life, I recognize the value in teaching her to not give up now. Here are some tips on how to raise a child who won’t give up.
1. Hand Out Praise In Moderation
You’ve no doubt heard that we’ve become a society who coddles and over praises our children, telling them every scribble is Picasso-worthy and every action is perfect. For a child who tends to give up easily, this can come back to haunt you if they do not receive praise for a failed effort. Reserve the kudos for truly special times, and use encouraging words when they are struggling. That way, they won’t feel like they are failing at a skill that really just takes time and practice.
2. Role Model
We all know the power our own actions have on our children, and that’s why it’s important to model empowering language and perseverance in our own struggles. Watch your words when you quickly become frustrated, and pay attention to your body language when things don’t go your way. Demonstrate that even though things get tough, you can still try again.
3. Validate Their Feelings
While we may not understand the complete and utter frustration of not knowing how to tie our own shoes at this stage in our life, we were once there ourselves. Your kids are developing every day, and their desire to learn new things and do them independently is an overwhelming feeling. While you don’t want to give in to their phrases of “never being able to tie their shoes,” you can most certainly empathize with them. Saying something like “I know you really want to learn to tie your shoes, and it is hard at first” can go a long way in letting them know it’s normal to get frustrated. The key is to continue to encourage them until they get it right.
4. Encourage Small Successes
Learning a brand new activity can seem daunting for a child, but there are many successes you can celebrate along the way that will encourage them to keep trying. Putting on a shirt requires sticking their body in, pulling their head through, and then their arms. Don’t be afraid to praise your child for each step along the way. It will keep them motivated until they’ve put the entire shirt on by themselves. I know we just talked about handing our praise in moderation, and don’t worry- I’m not contradicting myself here. There’s a difference between praising your child for every breath they take and handing out well-timed kudos for achieving a new skill!
5. Pay Attention To Their Interests
Once your kids are school-aged, they will probably start showing interest in organized sports and musical instruments. While it’s tempting to sign them up for every single activity they show interest in, it may end up curbing their ability to grow perseverance. Young kids learn quickly if they don’t like something, and then they don’t want want to do it anymore. Rather than waste time and money on expensive activities, start by doing one at a time. Many organizations allow kids to do 1 free trial class to see if they like it, prior to signing up and paying the fees. Before they start and you’ve officially signed them up for an activity, let them know the goal is to keep attending until the end of the season. It’s not just about doing things they like, but also honoring their commitment (Of course if they are in misery, that’s another story). Parents, now is also the time to put aside your desires for your kids to do activities you wish you’d done as a kid. Sure, they may show an interest but take a good inventory of the reasons you’re signing them up for something particular. Is it for them, or is it about you?
6. Assess The Skill They’re Trying To Achieve
When it comes down to it, sometimes we parents push our kids to do things out of principle. In reality, is it worth the tears and frustration for a skill that’s really not important? Yes, learning to tie your shoes is important, but is taking a dance class when they have two left feet and feel more defeated than encouraged? You shouldn’t worry that allowing your kids to walk away from an activity will set the tone for a lifetime of quitting. YOU don’t stick with activities that you don’t enjoy, so why should they? Set your kids up for success by directing their energy into things that matter. The rest of the time, just have fun.