Today I want to continue my character series by talking about perseverance. Namely, how to teach perseverance to our children and why it shouldn’t be viewed as a dictatorial mother making endless demands upon their children, but rather a mother helping her children grow in self-esteem. First, I’d like to talk about what I think self-confidence is and what it isn’t.
Self-confidence isn’t knowing you’re a genius, a beauty queen, or a future President. Self-confidence is not thinking you are better than others or even necessarily thinking you are all that great. Self-confidence doesn’t mean you’re the prettiest, loudest or most popular person in the room. In fact, those people are often the least confident. Self-confidence doesn’t mean you never fail, make mistakes, or want to give up.
Self-confidence is, simply put, trusting yourself. It’s knowing how you look and thinking “I’m okay with that.” It might be knowing all your weaknesses and in the face of them saying, “I am enough.” Self-confidence isn’t afraid of getting into a sticky situation because it provides trust and assurance that someway, somehow, you’ll figure it out. A self-confident person can take on life’s challenges because it views a challenge as something to be figured out. And, a self-confident person trusts in their ability to figure things out.
Why? Because a self-confident person has proven themselves, to themselves. In fact, no one else (aside from God who molds and shapes you through your trials) can give you self-confidence. In a loving, healthy, and secure home environment – you get self-confidence from yourself as parents lead and guide.
1. Help wisely when they say “I can’t.”
When I hear one of my kids say “I can’t” or “No, you do it” about something they are capable of doing, I use this as an opportunity to teach perseverance. Of course I can help them, but the goal is not for them to quit when it gets tough, but to learn problem solving. Now, I will often stand right beside them and help talk them through their challenge. This prevents them from thinking I can’t be bothered to help, but actually encourages them to keep trying. And, when you’ve helped them through a challenge like this they still take the credit themselves. My daughter usually says, “Look, see, I did do it!” My refusal to physically intervene didn’t make her feel abandoned or alone, but rather gave her the support she needed to keep at it.
The other day my 2-year-old climbed up a tall chair and got stuck. He whined and cried for my help and said he couldn’t get down. I stood by him and in a firm but encouraging voice said, “Yes you can. Here’s how. First turn around, then put your foot down on the step….” After a few initial refusals he did it and, once on the ground, said “Look, I did it!”
It takes more effort than doing it ourselves, but it is worth it. Believe me when I tell you that repeated instances of giving up will undermine a child’s self-confidence. They will begin to doubt themselves and develop fear. If they already are, then begin to help them through it from now on.
2. Push them further than they want.
Within developmental boundaries and healthy behaviors, obviously, push your kids just that step further than they are comfortable with. Before you send me hate mail, I’m not talking about dangerous or inappropriate situations here. But in everyday activities children will try to toy bounce or give up on their chore long before it’s done. When my son asks to color, he generally wants to do so for 3 minutes. It’s not worth cleaning up the mess for only 3 minutes of coloring, so sitting by him and keeping him at it for a while longer teaches focus and pushing through.
We always think we can’t go any further. We almost always can. If your children begin to experience the feeling of wanting to stop, and then realizing it’s possible to go, life will be easier.
3. Require them to finish what they start when it counts.
No one finishes everything they start. In fact, marketing guru Seth Godin says that winners know just the things to finish and just the things to stop that hold them back. But, he says, we all reach a “dip.” The dip is where we begin to feel it’s not worth it, there’s no point, and we’d just as well quit. It’s in the dip that we must push through and persevere.
If they’ve finished an art project that has a start and finish (not just random coloring), require your child to finish it. It is, after all, fun not torture. If they ask you to read a book then want to switch halfway through, don’t. Read that book next if you want, the goal isn’t to deprive, but begin to model carrying through for them.
4. Know that falling down, failing, and wanting to give up are not signs of deficiency, they’re signs of humanity.
I consider myself a self-confident person. Not because I’m always right and never make mistakes. Pa ha ha ha ha. I’ve failed, made big mistakes, made myself look stupid, gotten lost, given up, and asked God to just go ahead and take me to heaven. I’ve done all this many times. And yet… I’m still here. I’m made of sterner stuff than throwing in the towel. All of these things are inevitabilities in life, and this is the exact reason we must learn to persevere. Our children will fail. They’ll fall down. They’ll want to run away and hide. The goal is to teach them that – after all this – they can keep going.
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Perseverance is both a positive character trait and an act of the will. Sure, some people have personalities that make perseverance easier, but I believe it is something we can teach our children regardless of their temperaments. Mothers, believe me when I say that people without perseverance lack self-confidence and security. As the cycle continues, this lack of self-confidence keeps them from jumping out and trying new things or solving problems. They feel paralyzed and fearful they aren’t enough or they can’t do it. This is not because they can’t do it, but simply because they haven’t proven to themselves they can.
Aside from the gift of eternal life, if there’s one thing I want to teach my children it is this principle. You must not give up. You can take a pitstop and have a team come out and help change your tires. You can sit by the side of the road and let someone wrap your twisted ankle. You can cry on your mother, sister, or friend’s shoulder. You can despair of life, feel your heart ripping open, and wonder how you are still alive. Then, with God’s help, you can keep going.
“I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.” Abraham Lincoln