Many kids get easily frustrated at a very young age and after a few failed attempts at say, tying their shoe, they give up, cry, and request a Velcro pair.
While temperament will always play a role, all children can be taught to push themselves beyond what they believed achievable.
Here are a few suggestions on how to help them reach their goals, and lessen their stress.
Tone down the cheerleading
We all know the parents who gasp in amazement at a simple painting. “That is extraordinary? You are so talented.” Or “You are a natural with that baseball bat. A true star.” Or “You are so smart, so good at math it’s shocking.”
But to the chagrin of many parents, this can be destructive. Kids are keen; they sense the praise is meaningless because it is not based on anything. Sometimes it makes them angry because they are in fact being overlooked as a person.
Children who are recognized for their effort rather than their ability are much more likely to persevere because they equate achievement with hard work. Instead of saying, “What an amazing painting!” you might try, “You clearly put a lot of effort into that.” And maybe even make an observation about the painting in a detached manner. “The way the light falls onto the house seems just about right!”
Over-praising can be detrimental and often cause a child to stop what they are doing.
Break down goals
Big jobs seem overwhelming, especially to kids, regardless if it’s cleaning their room, writing a 4-page book report or creating a science project. To look at the goal in its entirety makes the task seem insurmountable. Broken down into steps makes it manageable.
For example, with a book report, start with a simple outline, a number of paragraphs, an idea for each paragraph, and begin the process word by word. Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird does a great job in illustrating this technique. As a child, she was crying over an essay, unable to move forward, paralyzed, until her dad taught her (the subject was birds) to break the piece down bird by bird.
After a child starts accomplishing tasks this way they realize the impossible is not impossible and the more they achieve, the more confident they become.
Remove the word failure
The very word failure can often trip children up and prevent them from even trying to do their work, or even trying something new. Setbacks are a part of life, without them, nothing would have ever moved forward. Keeping famous quotes around the house can be helpful. “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with the problem longer.” Albert Einstein. Kids love Einstein because he is funny, accessible and has many quotes suggesting success comes from work, not from some magic brain cells you were born with. Another great person to quote is Helen Keller, “Defeat is simply a signal to press onward.” Here is a woman without one advantage in her favor and she excelled. Of course there are so many, but that is the idea.
More than two thirds of all preschoolers develop some kind of strong interest, trains, action heroes, ballet, flying, dinosaurs. Whatever it may be, even if it seems just part of young childhood, often they are signs your child has a curiosity toward this hobby. Don’t discourage this. For example, a boy has a deep passion for dragons. Later, when it comes time to read, he has no interest. But, you remember he loves dragons so chances are he will want to read about them. Start laying out the books.
Many times the child then picks up the ball and they are off and running. Parents are often surprised by the sudden enthusiasm a child shows toward reading once he or she has the suitable subject.
Finally, as with most values we hope to instill in our children, what you do means much more than what you say. Let them see you struggle, but not give up. Some parents have an instinct they don’t want their kids to see them go through hard times, but letting them witness this and your getting through it, will help them. Let them see your own hard work, frustrations and agony and ultimately your own perseverance. That is pretty powerful: much more powerful than a lecture on not giving up.
The great idea behind perseverance is it carries forward throughout their life. It becomes a learned habit. Quitting is not a default mode. And when the day arrives where your child wants to quit, has just had it, you are there to remind them about an immense hurl they triumphed over.