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6 Evidence-Based Ways to Encourage Persistence in Children

Recent research gives us insight into how we can raise more persistent children.

Key points

  • A recent study found that children are less likely to persist in a task when an adult takes over.
  • Previous research also finds that children are more likely to persist in a task when adults model persistence.
  • Parents, caregivers, and teachers can encourage persistence in children through several evidence-based strategies.
  • Helping children break tasks down into steps, praising effort, and talking through failure can all be effective strategies.

Does your child “give up” on a challenging task too easily? How do we raise our children to be persistent and persevere through difficult tasks in order to succeed?

A January 2021 article published in the journal Child Development found that children are less likely to persist in a difficult task when an adult takes over for them.

This article included a series of studies. The first observational study included 34 children aged 4 to 8 years; it found that parents who tend to take over for their child in a challenging task are more likely to rate their child as less persistent. A second experimental study included 150 4- to 5-year-old children and examined the extent to which a parent taking over causes changes in children’s persistence. The results of this experiment indicated that children became less persistent in a task when adults took over a difficult task for them versus when they helped them verbally through the task without taking over.

The same researchers also previously found that preschoolers are more likely to persist in a task when persistence is modeled for them (i.e., when they see an adult fail at a task and then succeed). This is particularly true when the adult had to work hard for the success, and they emphasized the importance of putting in the effort

What are some evidence-based ways to encourage persistence in children?

  1. Do not try to take over the task when it becomes difficult. Be patient and wait longer than you think necessary to see if your child can figure it out on their own. Wait until they ask for help to provide any assistance and then provide only verbal assistance in the form of hints or possible next steps.
  2. Model or talk through a time that you failed and then succeeded at a difficult task. Explain how your hard work and effort helped you to succeed. You can even try to find times to let your child actually observe you taking on challenging tasks and succeeding (for example, plan to run a marathon or learn a foreign language). Research shows that seeing a parent exert effort for a difficult task and then succeed makes children more likely to persist themselves.
  3. Help your child to break down difficult or complex tasks into smaller manageable steps, or help your child to set smaller goals that will help them to achieve a larger goal.
  4. Praise their effort as they work through a difficult task (being careful to praise only their effort and not the results of their work). Research finds that this type of praise, referred to as “process praise,” enhances a child’s motivation to stick with a difficult task.
  5. Notice and acknowledge when your child sticks with a difficult task or shows persistence, even when their persistence involves challenging you (this does not mean you give in to their demands, only that you acknowledge that they are being persistent in asking for what they want).
  6. Encourage your child to try new and challenging tasks. It is particularly important to encourage them to try activities that are both challenging and enjoyable for them.

References

Gunderson, E. A., Gripshover, S. J., Romero, C., Dweck, C. S., Goldin‐Meadow, S., & Levine, S. C. (2013). Parent praise to 1‐to 3‐year‐olds predicts children's motivational frameworks 5 years later. Child Development, 84(5), 1526-1541

Leonard, J. A., Garcia, A., & Schulz, L. E. (2020). How adults’ actions, outcomes, and testimony affect preschoolers’ persistence. Child Development, 91(4), 1254-1271.

Leonard, J. A., Martinez, D. N., Dashineau, S. C., Park, A. T., & Mackey, A. P. (2021). Children persist less when adults take over. Child Development.

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