Family life

Teaching kids to persevere

How can Tracy convince Anna that winners never quit and quitters never win?

By Tracy Chappell
Teaching kids to persevere

Photo by adwriter via Flickr.

It was just a long piece of blue plastic that I freed from our shed when the sunshine started to take over from those chilly, gloomy winter days. Who knew that a small, benign object like that could cause, in my seven-year-old’s words, such a "disastrophe."
I used to love to skip. I assumed my daughters would too. Last summer, after lots of attempts, Anna finally got the hang of skipping while I turned the rope, the other end tied to our porch railing. It wasn’t an easy path to success. It takes awhile to get that rhythm of jump — pause — jump — pause, and Anna’s not always one to persevere in the face of frustration. She stomped away many times, but eventually could skip 10 times in a row, then 20, then more. I loved that smile of accomplishment.
I assumed that Anna would pick up where she left off. In the schoolyard, kids started breaking out their individual skipping ropes before school. I couldn’t believe how good some of these kids were. Wow! And they had such fun taking turns jumping as the others sang those same old jump-rope rhymes from my youth. I watched the first time Anna eagerly took the rope from the girl beside her. She tried and tripped up. Again and again. And again.
Surprisingly, Anna still had a smile plastered on her face as she passed the rope onto the boy next in line. I loved that she kept trying. As the bell rang, she hugged me and I whispered that we could practise at home. She nodded.
But she didn’t want to practise at home, and for the next few days, the same scene repeated itself on the schoolyard. Except that her smile started to fade. And the last time I saw her try, and trip up, she threw the rope across the pavement and buried her face in my jacket, barely holding back tears.
“I can’t skip!” she cried. I told her that she could, she just needed to practise, that skipping is tricky and the other kids didn’t just automatically know how, they practised. A mom standing with us told Anna that her daughter spent an entire Saturday practising skipping.
Attempts to practise with her at home led to more frustrated outbursts. I knew the whole thought of skipping made her feel bad, so we went back to skipping with me turning the rope and she was happier then, but couldn’t seem to get the arm/feet movement to do it on her own. And she got mad. Really mad. She refused to try anymore. And I got tired of bolstering her ego and dealing with her nasty words and those projectile skipping ropes, so I gave up too. “You can’t just quit when things get hard, Anna,” I told her, but the words sounded hollow in that moment, even to me. Even though I meant them in the worst way.
I don’t want her to be a quitter. I just find myself coming up short when I try to talk her down from that place, and we find ourselves perched there a lot these days. She has a perfectionist streak, and she wants to be great at everything. Immediately. When she’s faced with something she finds tough, she lashes out. And I’ve started seeing her not even attempt things because she thinks she’ll fail. I know that she’s also become hyper-aware of what others think of her, but I’ve honestly not seen any negative reaction to her from anyone at school about the skipping. But I know that you don’t always need that to be real to worry about it.
I so badly want her to realize she’s capable of mastering anything, but she has to give it more than one shot. It’s tough to know how hard to push, and when to back off. She’s a child, my child, and I know this is an important lesson that is mine to teach her. In the case of the skipping, I backed off, while offering her help when she wanted it. She didn’t. Then one day, she told me she skipped 38 times — she admitted she stopped a few times and kept counting. I didn’t care. To me, it meant that she hadn’t given up, and that’s all I care about. Now I see her tucking that blue rope into her backpack as she heads off to school. I don’t know if she pulls it out at recess, but it gives me hope.
How do you encourage your kids to persevere when they’re struggling? I’d love to hear the words that resonate with your kids. Since our comments are turned off, tweet me @T_Chappell.

Photo by adwriter via Flickr.

This article was originally published on May 27, 2013

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