Developing perseverance in middle schoolers: Here's what to know

Perseverance, also called grit or tenacity, is the ability to overcome setbacks in order to accomplish a goal.
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By Jamie Farnsworth Finn

Perseverance, also called grit or tenacity, is the ability to overcome setbacks in order to accomplish a goal. In childhood, when children learn to deal with minor setbacks, they are learning perseverance. Why is it important? Recent research shows the positive impact of perseverance on a person’s overall success; grittier people are more likely to graduate high school, stay married, and keep a job. Try not to worry if your middle-schooler doesn’t seem to be passionately working toward an important life goal right now, as many children’s interests change through this time in their lives, and many go on to be successful. By helping your child deal with failure and setbacks now, you can help prepare him for setbacks later in life.

Encourage your child to stick with a hobby or extracurricular. As your child ages, competition can become more intense, making a game that used to be fun more serious. Additionally, many children are influenced by their peers at this age, and a hobby your child loves may suddenly be “uncool” in middle school. Give your child room to make his own decisions, but talk to him about his options and reasons for wanting to give up on a hobby. Before you say it’s O.K. for your child to decide not to participate anymore, make sure he understands the reasoning behind his choice and the consequences. It may also help to revisit the conversation after a week or two. His mind may change, or not, but it’s an opportunity for you both to discuss decision-making and dealing with adversity.

Reward your child’s effort. Part of learning resilience and perseverance is being able to continue working even if the work is hard. If your child is putting forth a lot of effort to get a good grade, tell him, “I noticed how hard you’re working on your math homework, and I’m really proud of you,” rather than “You’re going to get an A on that test because you’re really smart.” By praising your child’s effort rather than his intelligence, you’re showing him that getting a good grade is something he can control, not just something he’s born with the ability to do.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Thomas Hoerr, Emeritus Head of School, New City School; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Michele Borba, Author, and Educational Psychologist.