Challenge Avoidance: How to Teach Perseverance to Your Child
The other day, we were outside playing with our neighbors. My four-year-old loves playing with our neighbor's daughter, who is about six months older. Our neighbor's daughter was learning to ride her bike without training wheels, which sent my daughter into a full-on breakdown about how she also wanted to be able to ride a bike without training wheels.
But, like any irrational tantrum, there was a catch...
"I don't want it to be hard and have to learn, I just want to be able to do it without falling or learning."
What is perseverance, and why is it important?
Perseverance is defined as continuing to do something regardless of difficulty or lack of immediate success.
This is an attribute that I feel is highly underrated. Perhaps I see it more often, because it is often a strength for student with learning differences. Many of the students I work with have a significant amount of perseverance, and I think it is a hidden gift of having a learning difference.
It is a common complaint about Millennials, they want everything to be easy for them. It causes tension in the professional work environment, and is sited as a character flaw of the generation. (As a Millennial myself, I am here to say this generalization is unfair. However, this reference helps make my point.)
We all know that there are going to be things in life that do not come easily. Being able to tolerate discomfort, normalize frustration, and continue to work at a task is an amazing skill that we are actually able to teach our children.
Lawn Mowers... the new Helicopters
I recently heard the term "Lawn Mower Parenting." I immediately fell in love with this term, because it provides a very clear metaphor for the type of parenting that may result in children who are unable to tolerate discomfort.
If you picture walking behind a lawn mover, you can clearly visualize the lawn mower doing the work of cutting down the weeds and clearing a path that is more easily navigated. It is *VERY* tempting to do this as a parent. We do not like to see our children struggle, so we want to go ahead of them and remove any obstacles in their way so that they can experience the positive feelings of success and accomplishment. However, we may actually be doing more damage by giving them the perception that success and accomplishment should come easily, instead of having to work hard for it.
So... what should we do instead?
How to Model Perseverance
One really important part of parenting is modeling for our children the lessons we want them to learn. This means that we need to fail, feel frustration, manage difficult emotions, and verbalize our struggles for our children to see.
This could come in many forms. For example, I could have demonstrated for my daughter how her father is pretty good at playing basketball, and I am laughably terrible. This would give her a visual, real-life example of all of the things I tried to explain to her about learning to ride a two-wheeler bike.
Another example of something that is difficult for me is reading in Greek (my husband's native language). My children often get frustrated with me when I try to read them our Greek storybooks, because my reading is slow and labored. Engaging in verbalizations could help model for them how I work through my frustrating emotions and persevere, because I know I will eventually become more fluent after I put in the effort. I could say things like "these words are very hard for me. My brain has to put in extra effort, and it makes my head tired when I have to read them! But I know if I keep practicing, it will get easier, so I will continue to try."
One amazing thing about a child's ability to learn is that they learn by simply watching. If I sit on the couch and read quietly to myself, they can hear my errors. If I then huff and puff, and close the book dramatically, it shows them I'm feeling frustrated. I can then say something to myself like, "It's ok that this is hard. I'm good at working through hard things and I really want to be able to read smoothly in Greek." From there, I pick up the book and try again.
Another great skill to model is walking away. In this example, I can say to myself, "I'm feeling a little too frustrated right now and will come back later after I've had a snack." (As a quick reminder, these are all things I simply say to myself.)
There are sure to be a myriad of things to choose when deciding on how to model perseverance for your children. You could even engage them in choosing the activity, so that they can feel motivated by your continued efforts, and track your progress!