The Power of Perseverance

Perseverance is rarely a quality celebrated in children. Whilst we praise the dedication it takes a Nobel Prize winner to stick at their project and see it through to the end, we may not quite see the connection between our child asking us for what seems like the thousandth time if they can play the iPad or have another lolly.

I’m not saying it is time to give in to all of the outlandish and ridiculous requests that come flying our way after school pick up, but perhaps it is time to stop and think about how we do encourage persistence and perseverance in our children.

The idea of ‘growth-mindset’, the popular term coined by researcher Carol Dweck, has been circulated throughout education circles in the past few years. Based upon the notion that our brains are not fixed, but neurons can be grown and strengthened when we push ourselves out of our comfort zones, it is an inspiring theory and one that deserves our focus. Dweck celebrates the response of ‘not yet’ to failure – the idea that while we didn’t get it right this time, that isn’t the end of the story. By not getting it right, we learned some important things about ourselves, about the challenge and about what to do next time. We learned about perseverance.

In her TED talk, education and psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth takes this a step further, presenting her research into the most effective quality for improving outcomes for students. Instead of commonly celebrated qualities like IQ, natural talent or social intelligence, Duckworth shows that actually, ‘grit’ was the determinative feature. Grit, or passion and perseverance for long term goals, helps us get back up when we fall, it reorients our perspective and allows us to tell a better story than ‘I failed’.

So, how do we build grit in our kids? Here are some practical tips:

  1. Switch out praise for encouragement. Avoid statements which label kids as a ‘clever’ or ‘good’ and focus on effort. Did they work hard? Did they stick it out to the end? This is worth pointing out and celebrating.
  2. Let your kids see you fail. Often we sweep our own mistakes and failures out of sight but these can be important teaching opportunities. Owning up to when we get it wrong humanises us and allows us to connect with our kids who often assume we have it all together.
  3. Leave space for frustration. When we move out of our comfort zones, it won’t feel great. Trying something new can open us up to feelings of inadequacy or fear. Our kids feel the same way. As hard as it is to watch them process these feelings, sitting with them and providing space for the ‘not yet’ will set them up for clearing larger obstacles later in life.
  4. Highlight the skills they have already. Looking for our own lack is easy. Recognising what we are good at often takes more insight. Your kids need you to point out their strengths and affirm them. Are they good at negotiating or problem-solving? Do they take charge of a situation and seek to lead those around them? Let them know!
  5. Help with planning. Starting a new thing can be daunting, particularly if you look at it as one huge task. Sit down with your kids and help them break down projects or subjects into parts. Get out the calendar and talk about their expectations for getting through it.
  6. Talk about famous people who failed at first. From Thomas Edison’s famous 9,000 attempts to create his electric light bulb to Jim Carrey and Oprah’s difficult childhoods, so often the people we see as successful had to manoeuvre through remarkable odds to get where they are today.

So remember, ‘if at first you don’t succeed… try, try again’! Or keep in mind Thomas Edison’s famous quote: ‘Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.’

Want more? Check out these articles:

How to teach kids perseverance and goal-setting

Encouraging grit and teaching perseverance to children

12 tips to raise a persistent child

What are your tips for helping your kids persevere? Let us know!


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