Supporting perseverance in kids: Here's what to know

Perseverance, sometimes called grit, is being able to work toward and maintain passion for a long-term goal despite obstacles and setbacks.
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By Jamie Farnsworth Finn

Perseverance, sometimes called grit, is being able to work toward and maintain passion for a long-term goal despite obstacles and setbacks. There has been a lot of discussion on grit in recent years, and there is a growing body of research on the subject. A 2013 report from the United States Department of Education focuses on grit, concluding that all people involved in a child’s education, including her parents, should promote grit above all. People who persevere don’t give up easily; they are continually moving forward and pushing through obstacles in their way. The building blocks to perseverance start early in childhood when children learn to deal with minor setbacks. Why is perseverance important? Growing research has shown the positive impact of perseverance on a person’s success, and that perseverance may be just as important to academic performance and professional success as a person’s IQ score or intellectual ability. By helping your child develop perseverance now, you can help prepare her for future failures as well as future success.

Talk to your child about times you have struggled, and encourage your child to ask older relatives about the times they have struggled. Struggles can be large, like overcoming illness, or small, like trying to get a new recipe to turn out right for dinner. Perhaps you (or a family member) were laid off during an economic downturn, but persevered and kept applying and interviewing until you landed a new job. You could also discuss when you struggled at your child’s age, whether it was in school or in extracurricular activities. It is helpful for your child to know that you’ve also had to work through failure and struggles to get to where you are. Even if you didn’t handle events in the best way at the time, sharing these stories with your child can show her that failing is just a part of life and that it’s what she does after failing that really matters. The ability to get up after a setback is a big part of developing resilience and perseverance.

Try not to be a “helicopter parent.” The term refers to parents who try to protect their children from all setbacks and suffering, and sweep in at a moment’s notice to help their child. Of course, it may be hard to allow your child to struggle, but by letting them get up and try again, you’re letting them lean on themself and showing them that they can overcome obstacles. At this age, challenges are generally less serious than they are in the teen years, and allowing your child to struggle now will help build the resilience that will help them in the future. One way to do this is to encourage your child to join an extracurricular activity or sports team. Many children first learn about perseverance and resilience through athletics. Whether it’s persevering through strikeouts to get on base or learning to get back up after falling off a balance beam, developing perseverance takes time. Every close game or tough competition is a lesson in effort and struggle and an opportunity to teach your child resilience.

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.