The Gift of Spirit: The Importance of Persistence

Persistence is a character trait that can be improved upon with practice. Learn how to teach young children to keep trying.

“If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again,” is a frequently repeated proverb, and its popularity is due to how applicable this wisdom is to our everyday experiences. Persistence is one of the key elements to success and a trait that will be well-utilized throughout a lifetime. From minor inconveniences to life’s major challenges, perseverance will enable you to solve most problems.

Many think “spirit” is a character trait, and while that’s true to some extent, persistence is also a skill that can be taught. Help the children in your care recognize the value of persistence by providing opportunities for them to succeed by trying, and trying again.

Teaching persistence

To determine if persistence is an innate character trait or a characteristic that can be taught, researchers studied 182 15-month-old babies. The babies watched an adult perform two different tasks: getting a toy out of a container and getting a keychain off a carabiner. One group of babies watched the adult achieve the tasks effortlessly, another group watched the adult make a variety of attempts using various techniques to achieve the task.

The babies were then introduced to a musical toy with a large button on top that appeared as if it would play music when pressed. A button hidden out of sight of the babies actually controlled the music, and it was turned on in their presence so they would understand that the toy made sounds. Then the babies were left alone in the room with the toy.

The babies who watched an adult make a continued effort to achieve pushed the button approximately twice as many times as the group who watched the adult succeed without trying, indicating that babies saw the value of continued effort in a generalized way – they didn’t have to be attempting the same task to understand the concept of persistence.

The results made it clear that demonstrating persistence as a caregiver is an important lesson in itself. Let the children in your care see you struggle and then succeed. But how else can you encourage young children to persevere?

Prepare them with the right skills

Babies and toddlers have a lot to learn about life. Teaching basic skills can give them the confidence to persist in an endeavor. Simply showing them how to complete simple tasks gives them the foundational understanding to make an ongoing effort when encountering a related situation.

Break down a task into easily understood steps, and make sure the materials they’re learning with are age-appropriate; for example, if they’re learning to dress themselves, choose elastic waistbands and slip-on shoes to ensure their ability to accomplish each step.

Give them space

Although the instinct is to help – or just to complete the task and move on with the day – stand back and allow young children to experience some degree of frustration. It’s difficult to learn the value of persistence if you’re denied the opportunity to practice it. Watch with a patient eye, provide some verbal cues, if necessary, but encourage them to continue trying to problem-solve on their own.

Provide challenges

Encourage young children to solve problems through play, such as working on a simple puzzle, building the tallest block tower possible, or using a shape sorter or stacking rings. Finding ways to turn problem-solving into an entertaining activity makes the act of persistence more appealing.

Offer praise

The only thing young children love more than doing something themselves is being praised for it. Be generous with offering congratulations, and specific about how proud you are that they overcame an obstacle through perseverance.

Persistence is important. Demonstrate it in your caregiving environment, praise children for trying, and teach children that it’s OK to experience frustration as they struggle and that the key to success lies in continued effort.

The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.

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