Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash
Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash

Developing Perseverance in Kids

Question

Our eight-year-old son gets discouraged very easily gives up.  He won’t stay at a task long enough to learn how to do it.  Sometimes he won’t even try to do something new while his older brother will try anything.  How can I encourage him not to give up?

Answer

From learning how to ride a bike to swimming to jumping off of a diving board there are lots of opportunities for failure and success in growing up.  Some kids thrive on these opportunities and others are frightened by them.  The danger is in others beginning to label them as dumb, stupid, lazy, a loser, a failure, or a quitter.

Perseverance is one of those critical life skills that comes easier to some than to others.  According to Romans 5:3-5, how we deal with difficulties produce perseverance which can lead to character and hope.  Different kids learn perseverance in different ways and it’s important for you to see this as an opportunity to help your son develop a critical life skill.

The first step is to discern his reasons for giving up.  Sometimes it can be because a child is lazy, but that’s usually not the case.  With many kids, especially boys, it can be a fear of failure.  Failure can bring mockery, derision, embarrassment, and even humiliation.  Especially if it involves doing something someone else in your family has been successful at.

With other kids it’s not as much a fact of them being afraid or giving up but rather of being easily distracted by something else.  This would be especially true of a child who struggles with aspects of Attention Deficit Disorder.

It can also be due to discouragement.  They feel incompetent.  They become “sure” they either can’t do it or can’t do it as well as someone else so why try?  It may also be something as simple as a personality type preference.  While some personality types are quite adventurous and relish a challenge others are more tentative and wary of danger.

After you’ve identified some of the reasons for his discouragement ask yourself what are some activities you know he can succeed at?  What are some things he can do where he doesn’t have to compete with his older brother?  How can you build his confidence?  What are some initial small and “fail safe” first steps?  What kinds of things tend to encourage him?

Remember that the best example is your own example.  Be open about some of your mistakes and failures and the emotions they produced in you.  Then share both what and how you were able to learn from those failures. Encourage even small steps in the right direction.  Look for and compliment any success.

When he does experience failure help him find at least one thing he can learn from that failure that will make it more likely for him to succeed the next time he tries.  You can help him discover that an inevitable part of success in life is learning how to manage our failures and an important part of good parenting is teaching our kids the value of learning from the inevitable mistakes all of us will make and in that process cultivate the skill of perseverance that will last a lifetime.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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