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Perseverance – A Missing Behavior that Sabotages your Child’s Success

Perseverance is the key to success
Behaviors Can Sabotage Success

Many of the children I’ve worked with in the past have gone from being “C” students to “A” students in Math in matters of a few weeks.  Many of my own children have achieved more than their age expectations, despite diagnoses that set them back. People often ask me “how did you get the kids to do that”? The key: perseverance.

The secret is in managing the detrimental behaviors that sabotage a child’s success.  That’s right, behaviors.

I’m not necessarily talking about the typical disruptive behaviors.  Sometimes we may be talking about disruptive behaviors like those in class. I’m talking about the little things that a child does. It’s the little habits that hold the child back by leaps and bounds.

The child has no idea, and no vision to see far enough into his future.  But our job as parents, caretakers, or educators is to spot those little things.  

What Behaviors can Indicate a Lack of Perseverance?

If a child is lacking perseverance, they may exhibit disruptive behaviors. Here is an example, one that I see over and over again. Today I pointed out to one of my children that he incorrectly worked out one of his math problems. I asked him to re-work it. His very first reaction was a grunt and a pouty face.

Sure, the pouty face is not a big deal because it’s natural that kids aren’t happy when they need to do “extra” work. We’re all used to kids that complain or try to get out of doing more work.  After all, who wants to do extra work? We’ve all experienced it when a child doesn’t respond cheerfully to a request. It may be asking them to clean their room, do their homework, do their music practice, do their reading, writing, chores or what not.

The default behaviors of pouting or giving a poor attitude when something isn’t done right are behaviors that sabotage your child’s success. Where as most people may be fine with it, I made it very clear to my son that his response was not acceptable.

You may want to throw raw eggs and tomatoes at me for being so “strict” and “nitpicking”.  Nevertheless, I don’t consider this a nitpick; this is actually a core issue, one that can make or break your future, and you’ll see why.  

As he attempted to re-work the problem with a grunt and show of dissatisfaction, I immediately put my hand on his paper. I blocked him from working on it, and with a gentle voice, sent him to his room to resolve his attitude problem before he resolved his math problem.

A little dramatic, you say?  Why couldn’t the poor child grunt over having to re-work?

Some Historical Examples of Why Perseverance Matters

Thomas Edison

  • His teach said he was “too stupid to learn anything”
  • Fired by his first two employers for not being productive enough
  • Failed over 10,000 times to invent a commercially viable lightbulb

… Became holder of 1,093 US patents; innovator of all times; founder of one of the largest publicly-traded firms in the world, GE.

Walt Disney

  • Fired from his first employer for not having creative enough cartoons
  • Bankrupted at age 22 after a series of cartoons and went further in debt later on
  • Had his entire organization taken from him, had his animators strike against him
  • Struggled through the Great Depression and WWII
  • Was more than $4 million in debt

… Created a billion-dollar merchandising brand.

Albert Einstein

  • Didn’t talk until he was 4 and didn’t speak fluently until he was 9
  • Was thought to be mentally handicapped
  • Expelled from school and denied entry to educational institutions
  • Walked alone in this theoretical work and had to defend his work on top of that
  • Forced to halt his research when WWII broke out and was put at risk of life safety for being a German-Jew

… Nobel prize holder; his name is synonymous with “genius”; revolutionary scientist of space, time, gravity, and light.

Benjamin Franklin

  • Born to a poor family of 17 children
  • Ended his formal education at 10 years old due to parents’ inability to afford
  • Taught himself how to write
  • Was beat by his father for being published in the “New England Courant” under a pseudonym

… Renowned inventor, writer, diplomat; founding father of one of the greatest nations in the world.

Henry Ford

  • Attempted several other businesses and failed miserably
  • Went bankrupt 5 times and left penniless

…. Founder of the extremely successful Ford Motor Company.

Need I say more?


Perseverance is the Key to Success

Perseverance is the single most important character trait of any man who has ever made a mark in human history.

One MUST have the perseverance to try it again, just as William Hickson said in his poem, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again”.  And a pouty face is NOT “trying”! It really isn’t. A pouty face is saying “I’ll do it because you asked me to”. And that is very far from persevering through the grit!

Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”.  A pouty face is not willingness to figure it out, let alone “enthusiasm”.

Albert Einstein said “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with the problem longer”.  Einstein stayed with the problem for as long as his life, continuing his research and proving himself right about his findings while no one believed it.  All the figures above had stayed with their problems at hand for their entire life! And how long are our children willing to stay with a single math problem when they don’t get it right?

When is a Good Time to Learn Perseverance?

Not that our young children need to stay with a problem for as long as these figures stayed with their life-long problems. But the character of perseverance needs to be molded at a young age, and nurtured to grow in capacity as they age and face bigger problems in life.

One can send their child to the most prestigious prep school or to every top summer program. But if he or she simply can’t or isn’t willing to stay with a problem long enough to figure it out – a math problem right now, or any little problems in their lives, it’s hardly likely they will be able to face the real challenges in life, let alone achieve anything substantial.

Children need to know that life is not like a video game where one can simply ‘restart’ every time things get difficult. Life does not have a ‘restart’ button and children need to learn to persevere through their difficulties to be successful.

So what did I do when my son lightly grunted as soon as he heard that he needed to correct and re-work that math problem?  I sent him to work out his attitude problem before working out his math problem. But that isn’t the only thing to do. In fact, that is the last thing to do.  I developed a system to breed perseverance in children.

My Recipe for Raising Children with Perseverance
  • Teach Perseverance Through History

Read and discuss biographies with children on a regular basis.  Why? These are great people who have done great things for the human race.  Why not learn from those who have come before us? My children are familiar with the life stories of Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Michelangelo, etc.  

One day my three year old was having his milk and cookies and started telling me, “Ghandi got thrown off the train because he had dark skin, and then he fought the British”.  I teach perseverance through history, through real people who have walked the walked. When my kids turn on the dining room light switch and we sit down to dinner, I start with, “do you know how light bulbs came about”?

They not only started to gain much more appreciation for simple things like light bulbs, but started to see it didn’t come easy. Bring inspiration and fascination into their life stories and see your children’s eyes light up.

Don’t know where to start?  Most children know Disney, who happens to be one who really came out of grit. Why not start from Disney? Enlighten them with appreciation for one’s perseverance and life work next time they watch a Disney movie.

Show them how we humans came from hunting in the caves to turning on tap water.  Show them where we have come from and give them the purpose for where they could take us as cosmic education for them.

  • Teach Perseverance Through Your Own Life and Family History

Did life come easy for you?  If your life was in any way harder than those of your children’s, share it.  

My father left home at age 16 to fight the communist in China.  They ended up fleeing to Taiwan and he gave the next three decades of his life to his country and never returned home until his 60’s.  Many soldiers who fought by him did not survive. Those who survived didn’t go on to live a normal life, let alone achieve anything. Yet my father became a supreme court judge after 2 decades of building railroads for his country. He was given only half a bowl of rice per day and slept on concrete under the bridges.  My father didn’t even go to law school. Somehow he managed to save the little bit of money to buy used law books. He studied on his own under the moonlight after a full day of hard labor building railroads. His achievements were far beyond what he was given and expected. His perseverance paid off as he passed the equivalent of the bar exam with a record score and was offered a judge position.

Having given 3 decades of his life to his country, he married late. Then he led an immigrant’s life across 3 different continents over 2 decades …. The grit goes on.

I grew up hearing these stories, and perseverance is in my blood!  

Today, I pass these stories down to my children as part of their roost. I add my own life stories, which of course are 10,000 times more fortunate than that of my fathers.  Pass your stories down to your children.

  • Model Perseverance

Everytime I hit the wall, even with the slightest things, I tell my children about it.  I then model perseverance by talking to them about how I plan on approaching my problems at hand.  Parents are who children look up to. It means so much to them to see what we do. You must walk the talk.  And you must show them.

  • “Sing” Perseverance

I teach poetry to my children. My choices of poetry sometimes have a character building element in them.  Children have the words memorized in their heart, so that it’s easily accessible when they need a dose of perseverance. For instance, imagine having these lines in your head when you need them (from a T. H. Palmer poem):

“Try, try again.

Then your courage shall appear,

For if you will persevere,

You will conquer, never fear,

Try, try again.”

When my just-turned-three year old gets a piece of his puzzle wrong and has to find the right piece, he taps on his laps and says “twy twy again”.  And he says it with a big smile on his face – THAT’s what I’m talking about!

That’s when you know it’s IN them!  That’s right, boy – we “twy twy again” with a big smile on our face!

I have a collection of poetry materials I use to teach perseverance, and get the whole family singing and chanting about it.  Next thing you know your child will be telling YOU to persevere when you come up against an obstacle. Email me if you would like a list of some of the poems I use daily

  • Practice Perseverance

So you think all this teaching is enough?  Not until you practice. Find AND create opportunities where your children can practice retrieving everything they’ve learned and use it. Create opportunities when you know your child may fail.  Be ready to catch them using their perseverance to get through it. Perseverance is like any other skill, the more you use it the sharper you get.

  • Celebrate Perseverance

Therefore, when your child faces an obstacle and tells you “twy twy again” with a smile on his face, you know it’s time to celebrate. You celebrate it regardless of whether your child eventually succeeds or not. That’s because you are trying to celebrate the attempt, the perseverance to stay with the problem and not get upset. You should celebrate any attempt your child makes on the path of perseverance.  Succeeding or not, always give them credit for staying with a problem.

In conclusion, don’t let these small behaviors and habits hold your child back.  Get a hold of that behavior and nip it in the bud. What behaviors are tripping your child?  Email me


Children with Sensory Processing Disorder can be especially challenged with perseverance. Grab a copy of my FREE Ebook ‘Thriving with Sensory Processing Disorder” and learn how to make your child with SPD flourish.

5 Steps to Demystify Sensory Processing Disorder and Help Your Child Flourish

About the author, Luiza

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