Kids need to learn to persevere, not only so they can succeed in school now, but to ready them for career, marriage and family responsibilities as adults.
Academically, Lucas was ahead of almost everyone in his second-grade class. He was doing fourth-grade math and reading at that level too. But when it came to sports or athletic activities, he was unsure of himself.
On a school trip to an indoor climbing wall, he was mortified as the other kids raced past him, while he remained at the bottom of the wall, too paralyzed in fear to go any further.
When his mom picked him up from school that day, Lucas, who had been holding back tears, climbed into the car and sobbed.
That was a turning point for Lucas. Over the next few weeks, his family planned their own visits to the climbing wall. Lucas was still scared, but with his parents’ encouragement, he pushed himself to keep going higher up the wall. After numerous attempts, he finally made it to the top.
“Now Lucas says he likes climbing the wall just about as much as he likes reading,” related his mom. “He learned an important lesson about perseverance—that some of the most rewarding achievements in life don’t come easily.”
Why is perseverance important?
What is perseverance? Perseverance is the quality that enables a person to stay committed to finishing a task or reaching a goal, even when it becomes difficult or boring and the natural instinct is to give up.
For a child, this could mean practicing the violin, even if it’s the same melody over and over again. It could mean getting up early every morning to take the new puppy on a walk, even though it would be a lot more pleasant just to sleep in.
The benefits of perseverance make it an important character strength to nurture in children, not just so they can do well in school or extracurricular activities, but to prepare them for their responsibilities as adults.
Perseverance in the Bible
And it’s a godly attribute as well, something young and old alike need to truly succeed in life. Throughout the Bible, we read about the importance of persevering and enduring to the end (for example, James 5:11; 2 Peter 1:5-8; Revelation 3:10).
What kids learn about perseverance when faced with school challenges may help them get through trials during their adult years.
It’s worth noting that perseverance is not the same as resilience. “Often the two go hand in hand, but they’re not the same,” explains New York psychologist Caren Baruch-Feldman, Ph.D., author of The Grit Guide for Teens (2017). “Perseverance means staying the course to meet a challenge of some kind and not quitting. Resilience is about dealing with disappointments and failures and being able to bounce back.”
Stick-to-itiveness: getting grit
Perseverance—endurance, stick-to-itiveness, grit—is a learned behavior. “It can be taught, fostered, and developed over the years until, hopefully, it becomes a habit,” says Dr. Baruch-Feldman.
While children are ultimately the “architects” of their own character, it is still the responsibility of parents to train and nurture them in the way that they should go (Proverbs 22:6). This includes teaching them about perseverance.
To help your child build the vital character trait of perseverance, try these strategies:
1. Open up a dialog about why perseverance is necessary
You shouldn’t assume your kids understand why perseverance is important—not in our “instant gratification,” “everyone’s a winner” culture. Have some conversations with them about what it is and why it’s needed.
Explain that perseverance is not only a matter of working hard to succeed at academic, sports or career pursuits, but part of becoming a responsible individual. Parents, friends, teachers, coaches, bosses, etc., won’t be able to trust and rely on individuals who don’t finish what they said they’d do.
Teach them that perseverance also means having the determination, courage and commitment to do what is right—to not cave into personal weaknesses or societal or peer pressure. It includes patiently enduring hardships, if necessary, to live God’s way.
Talk about how perseverance grows not only by struggling to meet challenges and achieve personal goals, but also by staying the course when confronted with unpleasant situations and difficulties.
Explain that when they persist in the various situations they face, perseverance starts to become a firmly ingrained character trait, which will help them for their entire lives.
2. Set reasonable expectations
A good place to start teaching your child about perseverance is in his or her everyday activities. If there’s a hobby or sport your son wants to get involved with, talk with him about the work and dedication that will be required. Help him make a commitment that’s appropriate for his age, temperament and experience level. If you think he wants to take on more than he can handle, don’t be afraid to say “no.”
Once you’ve given him the okay to take on a project, be resolved to not allow him to drop out or walk away from his commitment after the newness has worn off, and make sure he understands this stipulation from the outset.
“You want your child to have a goal where he’ll have to push himself to succeed at it, but it shouldn’t be too daunting or overwhelming either,” cautions Dr. Baruch-Feldman. “If you expect your kids to do more than they’re realistically capable of doing, that will only set them up for failure. You want them to have goals they can reasonably accomplish.”
3. Help your children see beyond their discomfort
If your child expresses frustration or discouragement because an undertaking isn’t going well, help him or her focus on the desired end result. Point out that if your daughter quits, she might miss out on something really rewarding. For instance, to be on the gymnastics team, she must continue practicing her jumps and sprints. If she wants to land an after-school job, she needs to keep filling out employment applications.
Of course, there are plenty of things kids need to persist in even if they don’t enjoy them—such as homework, chores or an exercise program. Remind them that you, too, have tasks or commitments that you’d rather walk away from, but mustn’t.
In these situations, the reward includes knowing you are doing your part to keep your household, place of employment, community, etc., running smoothly. This is a good time to explain that by pushing yourself to go forward, even if it’s to finish a mundane task, you are building perseverance.
4. Remind your children of their successes
Remind your child of times when he or she struggled or wasn’t doing well at something, but then kept his or her eyes on the goal and succeeded.When your child wants to quit, point out some of his or her past accomplishments. Remind your child of times when he or she struggled or wasn’t doing well at something, but then kept his or her eyes on the goal and succeeded.
That’s what Lucas’ mom did. “I reminded Lucas that when he first started reading, he thought he’d never be able to get through a book. But then it turned out to be easier than he’d thought, and reading became one of his favorite pastimes,” she recounts. “I told him the same thing might happen with climbing the wall, and it did.”
Let your kids know that if they were able to work hard in one activity and succeed, they can probably put that same kind of effort into another area and do fairly well at that too—even if it’s not a natural talent they were born with.
5. Applaud effort
When you observe your kids working hard, praise them for that. “Direct most of your praise on the process—when your children exert effort and have a positive attitude—rather than on the end result,” says Dr. Baruch-Feldman.
So instead of telling your child, “Excellent score on that math test!” or, “You got more applause than anyone else in the competition!” say, “I saw that you kept studying, when I know you wanted to play with your friends,” or, “You practiced so hard!” This tells kids that persistence is what you’re looking for, and it encourages them to push themselves and stay the course.
If you just compliment them for their achievements, they might think you’re only pleased with them when they excel. If they don’t think they can be the best at something, they might not even feel like attempting it or give up easily.
6. Challenge yourself
Set a good example of perseverance for your children by challenging yourself with a project and completing what you start out to do. Enroll in a college class and study hard. Finish the oil painting project you put aside. Sign up for an online fitness program and make it part of your regular routine. Commit to studying your Bible every day.
I have a friend who makes a point of working out on her treadmill after her kids get home from school. Another mom I know does a home-study foreign language course while her children work beside her doing their own school assignments.
“Seeing your positive outlook and determination will strengthen your children’s optimism and inspire them to finish their own undertakings,” says Dr. Baruch-Feldman.
7. Share examples of perseverance
If you know others who have stuck it out with particular challenges, tell their stories to your kids. This, too, may inspire them to persevere.If you know others who have stuck it out with particular challenges, tell their stories to your kids. This, too, may inspire them to persevere. Maybe you can think of friends or relatives who kept moving forward despite huge obstacles along the way. A Google search can lead you to stories of people who fought incredible odds to succeed in business or athletic endeavors.
For examples of individuals who endured trials, see the stories of perseverance in the Bible. For starters, there’s the story of Noah, who was mocked and harassed for building the ark, yet completed it and saved his family and all the animals from the Flood.
The prophet Jeremiah continued to preach God’s Word despite facing famine and being imprisoned.
Luke 18:1-8 tells the story of a persistent widow who pleaded incessantly with a judge to right a wrong done to her, until he finally gave in and granted her request.
The apostle Paul endured interrogations, imprisonment, flogging, a “thorn” in his flesh and shipwrecks—all to finish the essential job God gave him to do.
Use these kinds of stories as a springboard for conversations with your kids. With teens, you can go into considerable detail about how enduring difficulties produces perseverance, and ultimately character and hope (Romans 5:3-4).
With younger children, start with a more basic lesson—that a can-do attitude is needed if they’re going to learn to swim or ride a bike. Build on these lessons as they grow up.
Teach your children that learning to persevere is a lifelong process, and that the more they do it, the better they’ll be at it—and the greater the lifelong benefits will be!