Life can be tough for little ones figuring the world out. Sometimes, so tough they may feel like giving up on something if it seems too hard. How can we gently encourage them to not give up when things are hard? And how can we teach them why they’d want to?
My little guy used to think he could do anything. “I do it by my own power!” was his mantra at age three, but then when he got a bit older, I started hearing, “But it’s too hard.”
That broke my heart, as I wondered where that magic line between the feeling of invincibility and discouragement met, and how it had happened and I didn’t even know. I told him he could do hard things, and worked to guide him through whatever it was he found difficult.
But I want pushing through even though things are difficult to be his second nature, and I’m guessing in this world full of hard things that will do their best to break our children, that’s what you want too. How do we do that, though? How do we teach our children that it’s worth it to keep pushing? And why should we want to?
Paul Tough is the author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. He said that it used to be believed that success in life was based on a person’s intelligence, but science has disproved this theory. Instead, experts believe that persistence, curiosity, optimism, self-control and conscientiousness are more indicative of success in life.
First, we need to give our kids secure spaces in which they can fail. Too often our children don’t attempt ‘hard’ things because they don’t want to fail. And let’s be real, who does? But when we allow them to see our mistakes–when we model our imperfections and how we overcome them, they learn that they are unconditionally loved and accepted and failure is a part of life. In fact, if we’re honest, it is usually from our failures that we learn the most, if not just how we’d not do something again.
Set them up to succeed, so that confidence can be built and you can encourage them in small things so they’ll feel empowered to do big things, but even more importantly, show the growth that can come from failure.
When you do see persistence, recognize it! Recognize it, encourage it and show your child that you are proud of their persistence. Also recognize, though, that persistence may look at times like resistance to what you’d like to have happen, and that can be tough. That said–you want your child to be strong enough in his or her convictions to persist–when opposed is often the toughest time–and learning how to push on in adverse conditions is best learned with the knowledge there is unconditional love there too.
Last, give your child the space to not be persistent. Sometimes, in our zest to push our children to their potentials, we push them more than they are simply ready to be pushed. I would often tell the parents of students I taught that sometimes being able to do something didn’t mean that it was appropriate to do so. I can read German with the best of them, but understanding it is a different matter. We don’t want our children to give up every time something takes a bit more effort, but we also don’t want to make them feel they don’t have the control to choose where their efforts are best expended.
Guide your kids gently with encouragement and remind them of their past successes in an effort to show them what the future can hold.