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Supporting perseverance in early childhood: Here's what to know

Perseverance, sometimes referred to as grit, is the ability to overcome obstacles and failures in pursuit of a long-term goal.
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Perseverance, sometimes referred to as grit, is the ability to overcome obstacles and failures in pursuit of a long-term goal. The building of perseverance comes every day when your child learns how to deal with minor setbacks. Recent research shows that grit may be more important to success than IQ and talent. People with high levels of grit tend to approach life as a marathon and not a sprint. If your child is passionate about something, whether it’s academics, sports, or a hobby, and they continue to work hard at it after experiencing setbacks and failures, chances are they're showing some perseverance already.

How your child deals with failure is a key aspect of building resilience. If a child never fails, they may never learn to overcome obstacles. Learning is a process, and failure is part of that process. It can be hard to watch your child struggle with something but try not to jump in right away if they are in a safe and supportive environment. For example, if your child is struggling with a puzzle, or homework, or even cleaning up, try to let them complete the task, even if it’s slow. If you see your child struggling, you may want to say, “What else could you try that might work better?” or “I think you can do this. How else can you solve it? What can you change or do differently?”

Try something new with your child, like roller-skating or a new arcade or video game. No one is perfect at anything when they start, and this is a great way to show your child that falling down or not winning isn’t the end of the world. For example, you could say “I know that roller-skating was hard. It was hard for me too, but if we keep trying we’ll get better at it. I’m proud of you for trying something new!” It’s important to give your child opportunities to overcome an obstacle, whether it be a new sport or a difficult homework assignment.

Talk to your child about how long it took them to start walking -- how they fell down many times, but they eventually learned. By supporting your child and giving them a safe environment to take risks and try something new, you’re giving them a good base to develop their perseverance.

Point out times when your child perseveres or shows grit. Try to avoid criticizing them or comparing them to anyone else, and let them know when they do something well by praising them. For example, if your child gets a good grade on a test, try not to just say, “Congratulations on that good grade.” Instead, say, “You studied so hard for that grade and you didn’t give up. I’m proud of your perseverance.” By focusing on effort rather than completion, you are teaching your child to value the little accomplishments they made in order to complete the larger task. This will help them learn how to move past any obstacles they may have along the way.

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; Michele Borba, Author and Educational Psychologist