Raising Children Who Don’t Give Up

Encouraging Kids To Persevere And Why It Matters

Posted Jan 10, 2017

The Goddard School
Source: The Goddard School

I really thought I would love piano lessons. And third graders know their minds, right? My mother played beautifully, and she and my dad felt that it would help me learn to sing better (my real musical love). But after three months, Mrs. Locey, my piano teacher, agreed with me – a keyboard was not in the cards for these fingers and this brain, and she backed up my argument that I was wasting my family’s money and her time. Decades later, I recall feeling relieved, despite my parents’ disappointment, that I could get back to my choir buddies where I felt a lot more competent than I did seated at Mrs. Locey’s piano.  I felt a twinge of regret from quitting, but it failed to dim my joy in making music my way, which my mom and dad continued to support.

In fact, third graders are only just beginning to know their desires and hopes. Before that, parents often worry that they should be holding kids to their commitments and promises as a way to build perseverance and keep their children from becoming quitters. This can lead to anxiety in parents and confusion in their offspring about who they are growing up for. They are growing up to be themselves – no more no less. Remember, toddlerhood itself is shaped in all its wonder and chaos by the natural desire to master the skills of post-baby life: walking, talking, running, throwing, learning to use ‘no’ as a way to assert autonomy. Those are not teachable skills any more than children feeling joy in what they master is teachable. The joy comes from doing the activity. So, why do we worry about raising quitters?

  • Most of the time, young children want to stop an activity because it just isn’t for them. It doesn’t feel anything like they thought it would, it is not as fun as it looked and they are already competently doing stuff that they like better. It is rarely because they are turning into quitters.
  • Parents shouldn’t force children to participate in any activity that feels pointless or impossible to them. The accumulative risk of continuing to push at such moments is that your child may get the sense that you don’t understand them, and push-back enters their repertoire of behavior, making control of what they like or don’t like the issue, not the possibility of enjoying a new activity with your support.
  • It’s nearly impossible to muster the energy to stick with something new or just beyond your comfort zone when you are fatigued or distracted by multitasking stress. Purposefully give children the time and space to settle and then explore the things that intrigue them, which may be tough to do when they are preoccupied with fulfilling your agenda.
  • Well into first grade, parents can share more of the decision-making about activities to pursue and even what might be a reasonable time for a trial period. By then, children’s reasoning skills are stronger and they have a lot of experience watching their parents stick with things that are not always so easy or fun. Take heart - developmental progress is on the side of perseverance, not quitting.

Dr. Kyle Pruett is a Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and Educational Advisory Board member for The Goddard School, an early childhoodeducation franchise and leading preschool teaching learning through play (www.goddardschool.com).