Tenacity will get a child through some tough spots in life. Instead of throwing himself down and wailing when something doesn’t work, a tenacious kid will grit his teeth and figure out a way around it. When he’s little, his goals might be pedaling his trike or catching a ball. As he grows, this persistence will grow with him to help him achieve bigger things.
Focus on efforts, not skills. According to Carol S. Dweck, author of “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids,” children can learn helplessness if your focus is wrong. Everyone gets stuck sometimes when trying to learn something new or do something hard. You can motivate kids to keep trying by encouraging their efforts. For example, if your little one is trying to fit shapes into a shape sorter and wants to give up, encourage her by exclaiming how impressed you are with her efforts. You could say, “Look how hard you’re trying! You’re finding all the circles and working to fit them into the holes! I’m so impressed!”
Notice persistence. When you see your kid trying without giving up, point it out and make a big deal out of it. Ensure that your kid knows that not giving up is the key to success.
Teach your kids how to think about failure. Instead of dwelling on a failure and wanting to give up, failure is just another challenge or problem to solve. When those tricycle pedals just won’t seem to go around and your little guy is feeling frustrated, give his tenacity a boost. You might say, “You’re trying so hard to make your trike go. I can see how hard your legs are pumping and you’ve almost got it now. How about a cold drink and then I’ll watch you try again.”
Tell stories about how hard work pays off. Instead of talking about gifted people who don’t have to do anything special to succeed, look for examples of hard workers and don’t miss an opportunity to point these examples out to your kid. Athletes who train hard, friends who work hard and kids who try hard to master skills are all examples to talk about with your kids. This places the focus on success by hard work, not by innate intelligence or being gifted.
Hand out praise carefully. Always look for something specific to say about effort, not intelligence, because it motivates people. Some ways to praise effectively could be commenting on how hard your kid tries to do something, how he didn’t give up when trying or how he’s tackling something extremely challenging.
Compare your kid’s brain to a muscle to encourage hard work. Just like your little one can get stronger by running and jumping, she can make her brain smarter by trying and working harder, says Dweck. This places her in the driver’s seat as the master of her own destiny. When you teach her that she can achieve goals by flexing her brain to make it smarter, she can feel empowered to do anything.