The Power Of Persistence


“Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.”
–James A. Michener

As the story of parents accused of paying bribes to help their children gain admission to elite universities unfolded this month, there is understandable outrage and concern about such corruption, how college slots had been taken away from deserving applicants, and how overprotected children are not given opportunities to face challenges due to “snowplow” parenting. 

In the recent article “What the College-Admission Scandal Should Teach Parents About Success,” author Jim Lobdell writes:

The deleterious effects on students who chase the narrow markers of “success”—grades, test scores, resume-building accomplishments and admissions to prestigious colleges—are well-documented. The academic and extracurricular load required to compete often means compromising integrity, sleep, mental health and overall well-being, all the while research clearly dispels myths about the importance of attending elite colleges.

The irony is that this “chase” fosters none of the most important attributes needed for long-term success in our increasingly dynamic world—creativity, resilience, problem-solving, collaboration, flexible-thinking, empathy, adaptability, to name a few. Yet parents increasingly focus more on the things that matter less (achievement metrics), and less on the things that matter more (character traits).

Persistence and Parenting

Parenting involves the difficult push and pull of protecting our child from harm yet also building up their own internal “armor.”  This means we need to let them experience frustration and even failure at times while simultaneously teaching them how to stand back up again after they are knocked down.  This can simultaneously bring up parents’ own internal struggle with how they view their own setbacks and the degree to which they view their children as mere extensions of them.  For some parents, it is a narcissistic injury when their children fail, which may contribute to numerous attempts to force obstacles out of their child’s path.

As a parent or teacher, we have all been in situations with our children when we question “Do I push? And if so, how much?”  For example, your child has begged you to take violin lessons yet becomes so frustrated with how challenging it is that she wants to quit after just a few lessons. Do you allow her to give up or do you encourage her to persevere and take on the challenge?

Persistence is impacted by both one’s biological hard wiring as well as environmental experiences.  Also referred to as resilience or grit, it represents one of the most important traits for success in school and in life.  There are many ways we can teach our children how to develop this trait even if it doesn’t come naturally.


Strategies to Raise a Persistent Child

A recent article from Aha!Parenting offers 12 Tips to Raise a Persistent ChildRewarding persistence is number one on this list.  It is critical for parents to recognize a child’s hard work and effort, regardless of the result.  Our children need to know that a majority of our desires and accomplishments in life do not come without work nor do they happen overnight.  “Practice makes perfect” is a phrase connected with teaching our kids persistence and ties in with encouraging effort and practice over accomplishment.  This helps to take the pressure off of those children who worry too much about being good enough.  One of the most effective ways for parents to teach perseverance is to model it themselves.  Showing your child specific examples of how you worked hard towards a goal and didn’t give up is a very powerful tool.

Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, defines grit as
“passion and perseverance toward long-term goals.”  She highlights “if you are really, really tenacious and dogged about a goal that’s not meaningful to you, and not interesting to you then that’s just drudgery”.  How do parents cultivate this in their children?  Ashley Cullins offers 9 Activities to Build Grit and Resilience in Children.  A few of these include:

  • Encourage children to conduct “Grit Interviews” with loved ones who have worked hard toward a long term goal.
  • Share Stories of Gritty Famous People, such as J.K. Rowling or Michael Jordan
  • Teach About Grit Through Literature. There are many classic stories of perseverance that provide a platform for your child to relate to and learn from.  Enjoy these 12 children’s books that teach persistence.

One of the greatest gifts parents can provide their children is how they can persevere through challenges.  At the same time, this can be daunting for parents who want to understandably protect their children from disappointment, the unfairness of various life experiences, and pain.  However, the short-term desire to protect has a longer-term cost:  it undermines children’s faith in themselves.  Helping our children develop skills in perseverance, which includes letting them experience life with both its ups and downs, will help them to successfully work through feelings of frustration and anxiety when they are feeling challenged.  The more children have experience with that process, the more they internalize a sense of self-efficacy and appreciation of the power of persistence.

Additional Resources:
Teaching Young Kids Persistence

The Simple Steps Parents Can Take To Teach Their Kids Persistence and Grit

10 Ways to Develop Perseverance in Children

How to Teach Kids Perseverance and Goal-Setting