Persistence. Tenacity. Resolve. Determination. Grit. Whatever you call it, it’s the quality that often decides whether we keep trying to succeed at an endeavor or whether we give up. As adults, we all know firsthand how persistence can help us succeed in school, at work, on projects around the house and every other imaginable context. But what we may underestimate is how young we start to learn and practice this crucial life skill.
Kids are constantly absorbing lessons about persistence and trying their own hands at mastering this quality. As parents and teachers, we have the opportunity to help our little ones learn early the value of so-called “stick-to-itiveness.”
Here are some tips for teaching kids persistence.
Model Persistence in Front of Kids
Ever heard the phrase “monkey see, monkey do?” We’ve long known children have a tendency to listen to what adults say and imitate what they do. This speaks to the importance of modeling positive behaviors when little ones are watching, like persistence.
One way to start teaching kids tenacity is to model it for them. As Quartz cites, studies have shown babies are more likely to try harder at a task — like activating music by pushing a button on a toy — if they see adults try harder at a task first. On the flip side, babies in the study were less likely to put in effort completing the same task if they saw an adult effortlessly succeed beforehand. In fact, babies who saw adults struggle but ultimately succeed pushed the button approximately twice as many times as the babies who witnessed adults push the button without having to expend effort.
The lesson? Let kids see you try. Let young learners witness struggles and challenges that precede triumph. As small as these instances seem, they do influence how kids approach trials in their own lives.
Focus on the Process, Not the Product
We live in a world that often praises outcomes rather than efforts. One thing we can do as parents and educators is to be sure to praise the problem-solving process — and the effort a child has put into figuring out a solution — rather than just commenting on the final outcome. One math teacher does this in the classroom by evaluating participation rather than the final product. It’s a useful idea to keep in mind for outside the classroom as well.
Choose Challenging Activities & Praise Kids’ Hard Work
As Tinkergarten notes, studies have found kids perform better when authority figures praise their hard work, rather than offering affirmations about how smart or great they are.
This means teaching grit for kids becomes a two-fold venture: Design activities that challenge participants, rather than ones in which they’re already completely confident, then praise the hard work they put in to persist along the way.
Another way to think of it is rather than offering affirmations on learners’ strong suits, help them in engage in activities that genuinely challenge them — then compliment how they go about facing those challenges head on. This makes for a more satisfying, meaningful compliment, and kids can walk away with pride that they gave a new task their all.
Step Back & Let Kids Experience Failure
A common saying we hear is, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Notice the saying isn’t, “If at first you don’t succeed, never try again and take your failure personally.” That’s because failure is just as formative — if not more so — than success. So, step back and let kids fail so they can learn to pick themselves back up and keep trying.
Teaching kids persistence from a young age will help them get more comfortable facing life’s challenges head on as they arise.