The year is 2010, and I hate my mother. We’re standing in the hot summer sand of Chicago’s North Avenue Beach, and she’s juggling three small rocks she found on our walk while I watch in frustration, tears streaming down my face. How. Is. She. Doing. That?!
She hands the rocks to me and says, “just try again Seth, I promise you’ll get is soon.” I look at my younger brother, who had walked over to see if we could offer more fun than my dad’s quiet beach reading. Within minutes, he had gotten the hang of it, and was now juggling with the confidence of seasoned circus veteran. I was livid. After a few deep breaths, I toss the first rock. Evidently, my anger had not subsided, because it shot over my head and landed behind me in a pathetic thump. I stormed off, vowing to never put myself in that position again. But that night, when I finally had calmed down, I found myself unable to sleep. I just couldn’t get the day’s embarrassment out of my head. So, I snuck downstairs, grabbed three tennis balls, and practiced… and practiced and practiced and practiced until it hurt to move my arms, but eventually I got it. It clicked, and I was elated. I hadn’t slept a wink, and now I could see sunlight streaming through the window blinds, but I didn’t feel tired. I was ecstatic, because I had persevered, and it payed off. It was a powerful lesson, one that has stayed with me through high school and college, and I don’t expect it to go away anytime soon. So, I present to you here today 5 tips to inspire perseverance in your own children and help them achieve the dreams that drive them.
1. Listen to Wayne Gretzky
It’s only natural for kids to view a task through the lens of success vs. failure. “Either I get what want and my parents will be happy with me, or I’ll fail and my parents will be sad/mad/disappointed.” Sit them down and emphasize that there are a lot of factors that can determine a person’s success, and many of them are out of their control. In the face of an uncontrollable universe, the only thing you can control is yourself, the effort that you put into things. Failure is not trying and falling short. Failure is refusing to try at all.
2. Show them what perseverance looks like
There are great examples throughout history that can help show your kids the power of not giving up. People like Martin Luther King Jr., or Albert Einstein proved that even the most daunting of obstacles can be overcome. Popular school books (like The Odyssey) cover similar themes.
3. A little bribery never hurt anyone
While verbal recognition and praise of perseverance is essential, an extra reward for sticking to their goals and responsibilities is helpful in cementing “stick to it” behavior. We’ll leave the specifics to you and whatever you deem appropriate for your children, but here are 51 suggestions to get you started.
4. Try, try, and try again
Perseverance is just like any skill, you need to practice it continually or it’ll weaken over time. Encourage your kids to try new things (sports, arts and crafts, cooking, sewing, etc.) Chances are, they won’t be naturally gifted at all of them, which will provide an opportunity to test out their perseverance as they try to improve. With time, they’ll learn to embrace the challenge of the unknown not with fear, but with excitement.
5. Be there for them
Perseverance is an uphill battle, and at it’s base, it may seem like every step forward brings you two steps back. It’s important to support your children along this journey, to recognize effort alongside achievement, and (if applicable) share how you persevered in the same situation. Show how your successes were not easy wins, but earned victories, and that it’s because of those victories that you’re able to be the parent you are today. By Seth Gilbert