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September 20, 2005

Teaching Children Persistence

Everyone who has ever been around an adolescent child knows how stubborn and unyielding they can be. This is such typical adolescent behavior, and I think that adolescent stubbornness is also frequently accompanied by the following comment, "But that's not fair!" We have all heard it many times.

However, when an adolescent is confronted with a difficult challenge they find to be less than desirable, their unyielding persistence and stubbornness can quickly evaporate. Suddenly, motivating them to achieve the goal becomes an enormous, even monumental task. They can be among the first to give up. We have to be honest and admit that life can present some enormous challenges that simply can not be solved with ease.

One of the important attributes of intelligent, successful people is their persistence, especially when working to achieve a goal that proves to be illusive, difficult, demanding, and just plain hard. This habit, persistence, is essential to success. Successful people know how to work well with ambiguous problems. They are comfortable with trying to strategize solutions from various perspectives. They can sustain working on a problem over extended periods of time without giving up.

I am convinced that our coaches and performing arts teachers intrinsically understand how to instill persistence in our children. These amazing teachers and coaches have mastered the art of taking each individual team member, performer, and student to the very edge of his/her ability and then pushing him or her hard to go further than s/he has ever gone before without giving up.

They push them to work more. They push them to work harder. And they know exactly how far to push students before they reach the point of giving up. They are literally building the very nature of excellence piece by piece. Every time they work with students, they get more out of them. These amazing teachers know how to build persistence in children.

So how do they do it? What is their magic? I just sat down with our coaches and music teachers and asked. What follows are some of their suggestions on how to work with your child to help them habituate persistence.

"I let them know how learning happens, that it's not a steady climb. It's not linear. I let them know that learning is hard work. Sometimes learning is messy. Sometimes you get frustrated, but if you don't give up then the skill you are learning becomes your own, and no one can ever take it away from you. I tell them that they can give up now if they must, but maybe with just one more try it will be theirs forever!"

"What we do in class is just like sports. It's all about reps, physical motion. You have to increase the number of correct reps. It's the same thing with math I'm sure. Whether it's learning in school, in music, or whatever, I relate it to something they all can understand: sports."

"We don't have mistakes in my classes. Each so-called mistake is really an opportunity for learning. If you learn from your mistakes, if you study them and analyze them, you're never a loser. It's like the old saying, 'You miss 100% of the shots you never take.'"

"We have to set short attainable goals on the way to the super goal. We have to work them hard with those short goals, really hard. We then really celebrate their achievement of the goal. We keep them focused on achieving the goal, not on winning. And I'm talking about significant, meaningful goals. Then the praise is earned. It's noteworthy. They did something worth doing. So when we celebrate their success, they can feel good about it. This is what really builds self-esteem and confidence--not saying they did something great when they didn't or when it wasn't a worthy goal to begin with. They're not stupid. They know the difference. They have to see immediate worth in what they are doing."
"I think we also have to teach students to take the long view. It's not always about right now, or today, or even this month or year. We have to teach students to look at the long term benefits."
"Competition is not far removed from persistence. It's about being the best you can be, competing against yourself. You take the energy from failure and turn it into the energy of success"

"We highlight the fact that they work individually to do their personal best but are contributing to the group as a whole. By working together, they build something greater than they alone can build."

I appreciate the excellence these teachers bring to their students' achievement. We all need to emphasize that excellence is attained by pushing ourselves, by striving. The more worthy our goal, the more difficult it is to attain, the greater our sense of accomplishment when we achieve it. In other words, the experience of suffering is not wasted but serves to build character and achievement. By teaching our children to make a habit of persisting, even when it's hard, we help them be successful in all of their future challenges.

Posted by Tim Tyson at 11:42 AM

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