Practice and perseverance

xylophone

“When you practice and practice and practice, you get better and better and better.” This accurate observation came out of my five-year-old son’s mouth earlier this week. He’d been practicing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on his xylophone with the goal of playing it error-free. After a couple of days, he did. And he was proud of his persistence and hard work. Case in point.

It seems to me perseverance is not a strong trait of human nature and you can observe this early in life. How many toddlers give up on a task, just because they can’t get it right? How many young kids will stop an activity because “they can’t” and “it’s too hard”? How many school-age children will give up on math because “they don’t get it”? How many young adults will refuse to draw anything, even if they drew well in their childhood, because “they’re not good at drawing”? How many adults will stick to the same career path even if they don’t enjoy it, just because “it’d be too much work to learn something new”?

We give up too easily. Why? Because it’s the painless, easy road to take – the path of least resistance. And because we lack the confidence to go all the way. Because we don’t want to work hard at it and end up “wasting” our time, in case things don’t work out as expected. Why do so many of us act that way? I believe it has a lot to do with parents, teachers and other influencers teaching us it’s OK to stop trying. At least at some point.

My mother raised me, most of the time as a single parent. She didn’t let me get away with anything. Once I started something (of my own choice or required, such as school), she expected me to finish it. Failing was an option (although frowned upon) but giving up wasn’t. It was tough, painful, frustrating at times. It led me to obtain a highly respected baccalaureate in biology/math/science when I knew I never wanted a career in those fields. But it also taught me I could accomplish a task even if I didn’t like doing it.

This no-can’t-do attitude gave me the strength almost 20 years ago to leave the nest and travel by myself 3000 miles away from my home in France after accepting a teaching assistantship in Connecticut. I gave me the courage to move another 3000 miles to San Diego, California when I couldn’t take anymore of the snow, the ice and the cold. It helped me explore a career in marketing communications at a time when I had no clue what marketing was about. And today it’s helping me explore a new career path, with things lining up pretty nicely at this point. I believe perseverance pays off, as long as you stick to it.

As a parent, I’ve now taken a mentor role with my own kids. Just like my mom, I don’t put up with their use of “I can’t”, “it’s too hard”, “it won’t work”. I simply don’t allow these words in the house. If my kids say they can’t, I remind them they just mean “they don’t want to”. But I also remind them that if they keep trying, they’ll succeed. And it works. Every time. And they’re starting to figure it out. So today I hear less of “I can’t” and more of “I can do it by myself” and “let me see, how can I do this?”. I hover stand back and provide encouragement along the way (I believe in praising the effort rather than the result). The grin on their faces as they accomplish something difficult on their own is priceless.  They get it, they really get it!

How do you handle fear of failure with your kids? What have you used to motivate your kids to accomplish difficult tasks? Do you think the way your parents raised you influenced your attitude towards accomplishments?

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12 responses to “Practice and perseverance

  1. I think that it’s really important to model perseverance ourselves. Children need to see how we react when we encounter something difficult, so I make it a point of never covering up my mistakes and failures. If they see us handling challenges with grace, then they are more likely to do it themselves.

    • Thanks for your comment, you make a really good point. As parents we are role models (good or bad!) and it’s important to set the example, not just expect our kids to do something just because “we said so”.

  2. You are teaching good lessons to your children.

  3. You are right, as parents we will become the role model of our kids. They copy us very fast :)

    Yulia
    http://www.mylifeismyrainbow.wordpress.com

  4. I think you make a great point here. I just read a very interesting article in The Atlantic by Lori Gottlieb about how we parents are (inadvertently) raising un-resilient kids for some of the very reasons you mention here. We’re too quick to help them figure something out, instead of letting them puzzle things out for themselves. I often find myself about to step in to help one of my kids do something, but then I try to remind myself that they need to learn how to do things for themselves, even when they’re temporarily frustrated. It’s hard to see them struggle, but I know it’s better for them in the long run to persevere and become independent.

    • Thanks for the article reference, it’s wonderful! Here it is for parents like me who’d like to read it: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/how-to-land-your-kid-in-therapy/8555/

      Very interesting thoughts in there. I really like the emphasis on child independence and opportunities for struggle and failure. Doing everything for our kids can make them very narcissistic and not able to recognize happiness, as little as it can appear sometimes. These kids also expect everything handed to them on a silver platter without working hard for it. Unfortunately this is the young generation entering the workplace right now, and with the current state of the economy, they’re in for a shock!

      Oh, and I loved to read that “research shows that much better predictors of life fulfillment and success are perseverance, resiliency, and reality-testing”. I know I sometimes look harsh with my kids when I insist on them struggling and doing something on their own, but as our parents once said, “it’s for their own good!”.

      The big culprit at our house is my husband, who’ll constantly helps our boys with whatever they’re doing (so we can get things done faster) and can’t ever say no. If only I could train him, I’d be all set with the kids!

      Finally, I recommend all parents to read “Nurture Shock”. There’s a great chapter (among many great chapters) on praise and its misuse. A wonderful lesson for all parents.

  5. You’re sons own words reveal that what you’re doing works!

    I do understand that your husband sees the benefit in helping the boys because having them be independent and do a lot of things themselves is, without a doubt time-consuming. But of course, they won’t get any faster at doing the task.

    It does feel hard at times, but I think your way is right and your children will benefit hugely in the future.

    We generally tell our kids that the word ‘can’t’ is not allowed.

  6. Very well written, thanks for the link! I agree and compliment your tenacity in raising a “can do” child.

    • I really loved reading that article. It was such a breath of fresh air amid the thousands of parenting books and articles that always contradict each other. My husband has no patience with the kids and he always try to do things for them so they can be done.

      My youngest is very insistent on his independence and constantly tells him (pretty loudly I should say), “Leave me alone, I can do it all by myself.” I LOVE hearing that and it makes me very proud. When I hear my kids say such statements, or accomplish a difficult task, I always praise their effort. By the way, if you haven’t read Nurture Shock yet, I highly recommend it. A great, great book on demystifying many things that have been said about how to raise a child well. Out of all the “parenting” books out there, that’s the ONLY one I’d recommend because it goes against the mainstream belief using real data to back it up.

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