10 Tips To Raise a Persistent Child
"Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries." - James A. Michener
I'm willing to bet that many geniuses have gone to their graves unaccomplished because of their inability to persist in the face of adversity. All of us have days when things look bleak, when it’s hard to find the energy to persevere. But persevering may determine our chances of success more than any other single characteristic.
If you read about Nobel Prize winners, they all have different stories. But they share one thing: the people who know them always describe how that person never gave up. A two year scientific experiment can fizzle, and that scientist will be back in the lab the next morning, figuring out what they can learn from whatever went wrong.
Some parents wish their child was less persistent, especially during the toddler years. But persistence is a wonderful trait in a human being. It's essential to accomplishing what you want to in life.
So if you're lucky enough to have a persistent child, I'm hoping this article will help you reframe that sometimes challenging characteristic into a strength. And if your child isn't naturally persistent, I'm hoping this article will help you encourage your child to persist in going after what he wants more often.
Most psychologists -- and virtually all parents -- agree with temperament expert Stella Chess that perseverance is an inherited trait. But there is also evidence that children can be raised to be more persistent. Experience is a wonderful teacher. Kids who persist successfully tend to keep persevering.
What can parents do?
1. Reward persistence. Recognize it and point it out. Cheer when they don't give up, even when what they won't give up is their argument with you. That doesn't mean you give in to the argument. It means you applaud their persistence and find a win/win solution that works for both of you. For instance, if your child wants to do something NOW, maybe he'll settle for doing it another time, if you make a firm date, put it on the calendar, and fantasize with him about how terrific it will be.
2. Aim your child at a door, not a wall. If you have the kind of child who never gives up, she may routinely beat her head against the wall, (or make you want to beat yours.) To avoid that, teach her to look for the openings. For instance, teach and model that if she finds solutions that work for both people, she's more likely to get what she wants.
3. Expect your persistent child to resist you at times. If your child has the courage of his convictions, then he wants what he wants and he isn't necessarily open to alternatives. That's ok. As he gets older, he'll gain flexibility. Just expect more tantrums than usual during the toddler years.
4. Help with transitions. Kids who are persistent usually have a harder time with transitions than other kids. So come up with a plan to support your child and make both of your lives easier. Minimize the number of transitions in her day. Build them into routines so she comes to expect them. Connect with her before you ask her to make a transition. Help her take something with her from one situation to the next (so if she's playing with her animals, maybe one joins her as you head to the grocery store.) Always give warnings and prepare her emotionally.
5. Let him grieve. Persistent kids have big feelings. They will pass sooner if you acknowledge, with empathy, what he wants and why he wants it, and at the same time set firm limits. Your limits remove any possibility that hounding you will get him what he wants, so that he has no choice but to feel his disappointment. That's a good thing; it's how he'll learn the resilience to survive disappointment. "You really wish you could have that....It would be so much fun in our back yard....You're so disappointed I'm saying No...And the answer is still definitely No. I'm sorry we can't buy it today, but that's for a special occasion, like your birthday." Be aware that he might still have a meltdown and he might even continue his meltdown all the way home. People may stare. That's ok. Eventually, your kid will be the one who achieves big dreams against all odds, because only persistent people can do that.
6. Practice stopping. Kids who are persistent often can't stop themselves when they really want something. They need our help to let something go. Younger kids will often need to cry before their good mood is restored. Give them practice "stopping" by playing games like "Mother May I" and "Simon Says" and be sure you're doing Preventive Maintenance to help them be more flexible. With older kids, agree in advance what they can do to transition emotionally. For instance, come up (together) with a secret code that you can use when she is really going too far and just needs to stop and regain her equilibrium. Agree on what will happen when she hears the special code word, and how you can help her. For instance, maybe she just needs to retire to her favorite alone spot and read her favorite book or listen to a book on tape, to shift gears. Then (after warning her), practice.
7. Practice makes perfect.
Many kids worry that they aren't good enough, which makes them give up easily. Help your child understand that no one becomes accomplished
overnight. All experts have worked for years to accomplish
excellence in their field. Encourage effort and practice, more than
accomplishment. For a brush up on effective praise, here's an article.
8.Offer emotional support. If your child wants to quit three weeks into the dance class, listen to why. Maybe it just isn't what she thought it would be and she'd rather do soccer than ballet. That's fine; part of finding our passions is to experiment. But if she wants to quit everything she starts, then something is getting in her way, and that something is almost certainly fear. She needs your help to work through her fear, or it will begin to pervade other areas of her life, and you'll find her shrinking back from trying new things in general.
So help her work through those fears by playing with her about them, for instance, by playing dance class at home. Let her be the teacher while you're the student. Bumble and let her giggle at what a terrible student you are. Seeing someone who just can't do anything right will help her feel better about her own lack of perfection.
If playing isn't enough and she needs to do some crying, that's ok, too. Tell her that she needs to finish the six weeks of the class, and you're sorry it's so hard. If you've done enough playing, her feelings will be close enough to the surface that she'll probably cry. That's good -- exactly why you set the limit that she needs to stay in the class. A good cry may be all she needs to walk into the next class feeling good and come out feeling even better.
What if she cries about it a few times and still doesn't want to go back? Then maybe there's more going on than you realize. Is the teacher somehow scaring her? Is there something happening that's upsetting? But most of the time, once kids laugh and cry about it, they go happily -- and often, once they're past this hurdle, they end up loving it and wanting to do more. But even if she doesn't, she'll have learned something positive about her own inner resources.
9. Model perseverance. Show your child how one can set out to master something and move through setbacks to do so. Talk about your feelings as you do it. "I tried it this way. That didn't work. Now I am going to try it that way. I don't give up easily."
10. Teach your child to take a break. As Albert Schweitzer said, "A man can do only what a man can do. But if he does that each day he can sleep at night and do it again the next day." Teach your child to monitor his mood and take a break when he needs to. "We're both getting frustrated, so let's take a break. We'll tackle this again tomorrow." Sooner or later, he’ll make a break-through, and it’s not a bad idea to stop before he gets too frustrated.
"Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go." -- William Feather