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How to Teach Perseverance: 8 Strategies for Kids That Give Up

1. Figure out what is doable. Is the task in front of the child too hard or within reach (with support)? This is called “Zone of Proximal Development”. For example, a child should not be expected to ride a bike if they cannot balance, run, hop, listen to simple directions, etc. Once those milestones are achieved, bike riding is doable with a knowledgeable rider’s support. An academic example: A third grader can (often) not be handed a laptop and be told to write a well-developed five paragraph essay on the importance of various forms of energy. They can, though, write a nonfiction story/book/essay about a topic they have access to with support such as texts at their reading level, planning documents, clear expectations, and modeling.

2. Know and explain to children the difference between the supportive voice in your head (coach) and the one who doesn’t believe in you (critic). When you hear the critic, ask your coach to speak up. While the critic may say, “You are supposed to be smart - why can’t you do this?!”. The coach will always say, “I can do it! Keep trying!”

3. Set reachable goals and focus on success (even if the milestones are small). Make a big deal when kids persevere and find success - any level of success.

4. Find partners/peers to work with. It’s important to find the right partners; ones who aren’t already experts, but do have interest in the topic - or at least accomplishing the goal. I don’t know about you, but I give up much more easily when I have to work alone. Solving Fun, the puzzle business I co-founded last year, would have NEVER happened had it been founded by either one of us. We need each other to persevere through the hard parts and help each other learn.

5. Let your child work without an adult watching over them. This is super important. Do you want the people you most respect to watch you struggle? They don’t either. Help kids get started, and then let them try on their own and come to you (or some other identified person) for help if needed.

6. Provide opportunities to practice perseverance regularly in low stress situations. One great way to do this is through solving. Solving Fun puzzles/games/activities are created for kids ages 7-11 to build creative thinking and perseverance skills while having fun.

7. Take a break. When things get hard, sometimes, we just need to walk away and come back later. Over the last year my family has been solving a lot of jigsaw puzzles. When we have been finding pieces for longer than an hour, I notice that the pieces are harder to locate. We could get frustrated and give up entirely. But if we walk away and try again later, the puzzle is often easier to solve after a break.

8. Model. Model. Model. Let your kids see you persevere through challenges. Narrate as it is happening so they can see that it isn’t all easy for you, either! “I’m smart/athletic/artistic, but this is still hard for me. I’m going to keep trying.”

Perseverance isn’t a trait that is learned over night. It takes time, and trust. Kids must trust that what you are modeling and saying is reinforced when things are tough. Try these strategies and keep a positive outlook, and you will see growth.

What strategies do you use to help your kids get through those challenging times?

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