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How To Encourage Your Child To Be Persistent

Mum-of- three Amy Vickers discusses how to encourage your child to have a healthy level of persistence.

Persistence, or the art of trying something until you succeed, is such a major part of parenting and growing up that we don’t realise we’re doing it most of the time. I’ll wager many parents don’t even call it by its name, possibly calling it ‘patience’, ‘resilience’ or ‘encouragement’.

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I used it recently, when trying to get my youngest to eat a morsel of fish pie. Every mealtime in our house is a battle of wills: he plays with his food and I encourage him to eat. After 10 minutes of futile verbal encouragement, I give in, pick up his spoon and start to bribe it into his mouth.

It’s an arduous regular occurrence, which makes me feel frustrated in my persistence at getting some decent food in their bellies. They’ve got to eat something other than junk, right?

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My children can be as strong-willed as me – so occasionally we might find ourselves at loggerheads over something that I wish they just would give in on.

Yes, persistence is a wonderful trait in someone, essential to accomplishing many things in life, but at what point does wilful stubbornness become too much and the person becomes so annoying that it becomes a negative trait? We’ve all see toddlers melt down when they can’t get something they want – so our job as parents is to show them how to master something without getting too frustrated.

Is Persistence A Good Trait To Have?

I asked friends if persistence in children was positive or negative. Many agreed it was a mix of both albeit irritating at times – and that it's probably a good quality for them to have as they get older, even if it’s hard to listen to when they won’t take no for an answer.

The way I see it, persistence is all about inner strength and both parties having the patience to teach or learn a new life skill, such as riding a bike, eating dinner using cutlery, using the toilet, saying please and thank you, playing a sport. As parents, we may not know it, but we use persistence in every aspect of our daily lives, from encouraging our children to eat vegetables to going to bed at a reasonable hour, which is a nightly battle in our house.

Children would not make any progress in life without persistence – both from parents and themselves. My three year old has just successfully graduated from
potty training school and I’ve happily given away all of my potties for good. I’m trying to teach my eldest to tie his shoe laces at the moment, but he’s all fingers and thumbs, so we’ll have to keep revisiting that one. And my five-year- old daughter mastered how to walk on a tight-rope at a festival last weekend – much to her inner delight.

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Out Of The Safety Zone

I believe we all need to be put out of our comfort zones every so often in order to grow as people. I often force myself to get up in front of groups so that I can overcome my fears, and I try to encourage my kids to similarly overcome their fears, which sometimes means role-playing their fears such as being on a stage in a school show.

I’m also a big fan of telling my kids I’m proud of them for their achievements – and asking if they are proud of themselves. I’d love them to see how skilled they really are and realise they can do anything if they try – I’m a bit no nonsense sometimes in that I’ll keep encouraging them when they’re trying to give up. I don’t want to be pushy but I would like to foster feelings of self-sufficiency and self-esteem. “Come on, you can do it, I know you can,” is my stock answer to their frustrations, and “You did it! Well done! ” always brings a smile to their faces.

By believing in them they feel empowered and more capable, and then guess what suddenly they do it. Like teaching them to ride a bike. I told them what great balance they had and that I wouldn’t let them fall, and they were off: riding with
no stabilisers at three and a half.

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It Pays Off

Like most parents, I like politeness and manners in kids, so from the first moment my three could talk, I have probably prompted the words ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ some 50 times a day, which tediously over six years means I’ve said it about 100,000 time in total. Yes, I’m fed up of it, but miracles are finally happening – I’m getting reports back from playdates and grandparents that my “kids are so polite”, which is making me feel all gooey inside with happiness.

It’s weird the small pleasures we take in results. All that nagging over the years to pick their stuff up off the floor, ad nauseum, until I’ve bored myself silly, seems to be finally paying off and they’re not throwing things on the floor – as much!

A Delicate Balance

I prefer to think of it as ‘benign encouragement’ because nobody likes an incessant bloody-minded mum who will stop at nothing until her kid learns a lesson. It’s a delicate balancing act, as is all of parenting, but I’ve learnt to take deep breaths and keep an eye on the big picture goals such as nurturing self-love, enjoyment and self-satisfaction and trying not to stress the small stuff.

But it doesn’t matter if we don’t achieve everything – at least we’ve tried – and even though I’m espousing the benefits of persistence, I also want my kids to learn that it’s normal to feel frustrated if something doesn’t work out. It’s ok to give up if something is too far beyond their reach – and come to it later when they’re feeling more capable. All I want them to do is make a little effort to find something they’re good at, which will make me a happy mum so my work here is done.

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Here Are My Tips To Build Your Little People Into Trojans:

  • Practice makes pleasure. Encourage them to try to enjoy new tasks, telling them you know they can do it but it might take a few tries.
  • Model persistent behaviour. Tell them some things are hard for you too, but you like learning how to do new things.
  • Give them enough freedom to try things out for themselves. Don't hover like a helicopter; you’ll put your anxiety onto them. Never say: “don’t do that, you’ll fall” as this undermines their confidence in their abilities.
  • Set goals. We have a rule in our house that they must try something three times before they say they don’t like it or can’t do it.
  • Don’t be overbearing or competitive. Listen to what they want and show them how to achieve their needs.

How do you encourage your child to have a healthy level of persistency? Tell us in the comments below.


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