Can You Teach a Child Perseverance?

I joined my 20-month-old in her playspace to find her playing with a plastic fence. She had an idea what she wanted to do with it. She was trying to set it up. The fence is connected at two places so it bends quite easily. She kept trying to stand the fence up. But, she kept standing it up straight and it would fall over. My older son is doing slightly more advanced activities so I would normally give some kind of feedback like, “It doesn’t look like that’s going to stand,” or “It needs to be bent to stand on its own.” I decided to just let her be and explore. Maybe she would figure it out. She grunted a few times as she stood it up and it kept fall over. Each time it fell she would softly say, “Oh no Zo.” I think it’s because we have a neighborhood playmate named Zoe and maybe we’ve heard the parent say that before.

There is little frustration on her face. She just keeps trying. I knew what she wanted because each time she would almost get it she would start to smile. Then, it would fall over again. A few times she got it to stand and immediately set the horse next to it, laughed, and then had the horse eating the grass only to bump the fence and knock it down again.

I started thinking, “When I grow up, I want to be like my daughter.” I don’t feel like I have a good history with perseverance. I am learning though. I work much more thoroughly on my writing and music than I used to. I remain a lot more patient when things become difficult too.

This interchange seems pretty insignificant and maybe it is. But I’ve seen 20-month-olds throw themselves on the floor with this kind of frustration. I’ve even seen a 4-year-old crumble in the midst of not being able to do something so insignificant to us. But I’ve learned something over the past 4 years of being a parent; helping your kids learn how to persevere and continue looking for a solution is a great gift. There is no small amount of perseverance.

Remember these things

Criticizing a child for not persevering is not motivating. It normally makes them want to hide their failures more and try less.

Interfering with their learning does not always help. Unless they’re asking for help, I generally don’t offer.

Quizzing a child on words and skills is not the same as teaching. If you want them to know it, like what color it is, just tell them the name of the color.

Philip Mott

I've been working with families for two decades now. I write about topics pertaining to parents of children ages 4-12.

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