Embracing persistence in children

flower-887443_1280 (2)When my son was younger, I wondered why he had to be so determined? Why couldn’t he be easygoing like most other kids I know? And why did he have to challenge me nearly all the time?

I vividly recall an incident when Ethan was about 2 years old. It made me realize how strong-willed and spirited he was.

He wanted to open a kitchen cabinet that was locked. I explained that it was unsafe and that he can play with all the other cabinets I kept unlocked. He wouldn’t have it. He sat next to the cabinet door sobbing and pleading for about an hour and a half. Nothing I said or did distracted him or changed his mind.

I understood I needed to meet his persistence with an abundance of love and patience as well as consistency to set limits and develop healthy boundaries.

With time, I have learned to gain an appreciation for his temperament, develop more patience, take a deep breath before responding, and try the best I can to see situations from his perspective.

A few months ago, at the age of 7, Ethan reminded me how his determination was effective and how important it was for me to learn from it.

We arrived at the playground with Ethan riding his scooter, scouring to see if any of his friends were around. He spotted a boy about his age, also scootering. He didn’t know him, but nonetheless, his eyes lit up — he wanted to play!

He zoomed in the boy’s direction and shouted, “Hey, do you want to race with our scooters?” The boy didn’t respond and scootered in the opposite direction. As Ethan followed him, the boy kept riding away. So they went, Ethan trying to get his attention and the boy ignoring him and scootering away from him — it was clear that he was avoiding Ethan.

I called Ethan over and explained to him that the boy didn’t seem interested in playing, and I asked that he respect his space. He protested, saying he just wants to race their scooters together. I stressed that we need to respect the boy’s wishes.

For the next 30 minutes, the boys played away from each other. Then the boy was playing with a soccer ball, and when he threw the ball, it landed in Ethan’s hands. Without any verbal exchange, they started to play ball together.

I shook my head and chuckled. I thought, he sure found a way to get to this boy.

They continued to play for the next 30 minutes. They came over to me for a short break, and after they took a few sips of water, Ethan casually asked the boy, “Hey, do you want to race with our scooters?” “Sure!” the boy, said.

Ethan turned over to face me and with his victorious, glowing smile said, “See? Now he listens!” And with that, they went and joyfully raced on their scooters.

Game over. Persistence paid off!

Through my son, I have learned about the value of persistence and it has benefited me personally and professionally. Persistence is an important component in pushing through and achieving goals. Recent studies point out that perseverance and persistence in children are better predictors of success than IQ scores. I particularly like this 2013 article on the value of persistence.

Rather than wondering why or how our children have certain characteristics, we ought to wonder how we can best approach them and how we can nurture who they are.

I no longer view my son’s persistence as a shortcoming, but rather a strength. It presents a constant challenge for me, but it’s one I wholeheartedly embrace.

Additional API Resources on Embracing Our Child’s Temperament

laura markhamAPI Teleseminar: “How to Get Kids Cooperating Without Yelling, Bribes, Threats or Punishments” with Dr. Laura Markham — audio recording now only $9!



TAF2013lovinguniquelyAPI Publications: Attached Family special edition, “Loving Uniquely


Personal stories on APtly Said, API’s blog:

— “Liking my spirited child

— “Average big

— “He just wants to be held

— “Was Attachment Parenting worth it?

— “Nurturing touch restores security in adoptive families

— “Is he a good baby?

— “The clown is sometimes serious

— “Want your child to learn self-control? First, teach self-validation

Professional insight on The Attached Family, API’s online magazine:

— “Different, Not Disordered

— “Emotions, Limits and Spirited Kids

— “Parenting Without Punishment in a Punishing World

— “Creative Learning

— “When ‘D’ Meets ‘S,’ The Role of Personality in Parenting

— “Quiz: Are You a ‘Problem Parent?’

— “Diverting Anger in Toddlers

The Clown is Sometimes Serious

bubliny-1207473-mThe clown, the astronaut, the chatterbox, the complainer, the “slob” and many more stereotypes all appear in our families and in our classrooms.

These are the characters that can disturb, annoy, frustrate and anger us, because they interrupt and spoil our agendas. We are convinced that this is how they always are. They make us worry. We wonder if they were born this way and if they are destined to stay this way.

But sometimes “the clown” is serious, and sometimes he is sad. Sometimes the “astronaut” is attentive and focused. Sometimes the “chatterbox” is pensive and quiet. Sometimes the “complainer” is appreciative. Sometimes the “slob” is orderly.

But their stereotyped behavior seems so dominant and convincing, that we can’t see anything else. In fact, we’re not even looking for anything else.

When we think of a child in a certain way, we lock him right into the way we perceive him. Without intending to do so, we imprison children into patterns of behaving. Sometimes when others stigmatize a child, we continue enforcing the pattern, even though we don’t mean to.

Johanne Wolfgang Von Goete, a German philosopher in the late 1700s and early 1800s, is quoted as saying, “If you relate to a person as if he is already capable of what he can be, he will be what he is capable of being.”

What children really want and need from us is to be understood and known. Instead of identifying the child with his behavior, we want to convey an attitude of:

  1. belief in the child, knowing that as he grows up, the character traits we long to see in him will come to fruition;
  2. trust in the child’s good intentions and his desire to be “good” before you try to influence;
  3. desire to truly understand who he is and what he needs from us.

Reb Nachman of Breslav, a Jewish leader also in the late 1700s and early 1800s, taught that every person should be favorably judged, and if we do so, we elevate that person to a level of favorable judgment. We may apply this to adults but forget to do so with children. Are our hearts soft enough to see our children in a favorable light?

A change in the child’s behavior will result from a change in our own perception of the child. When we realize we are seeing only one aspect of the child and that there is so much more that we are not yet seeing, we can begin to appreciate this child for who he really is. Instead of trying to cut out a behavior that might irritate us, we can help bring out other intentions and qualities that we do not as easily see in the child. It’s not “this or that,” but that “this and this” co-exist together.

I remember a story of a boy who was labeled “careless and irresponsible.” He “broke everything he touched.” Fortunately, even though his teacher was “warned” about his behavior, she did not see him as careless and irresponsible. She knew he had the potential to take responsibility. She gave him small jobs — and then bigger jobs — that would help this potential grow.

When a child feels confident within the relationship with his parent or teacher, he can rest in this relationship. This rest frees him to take responsibility, venture forth into new experiences and feel confident. The parent or teacher conveys:

“I am here for you. I care about you. I believe in you. Your very presence is a source of delight. I am your answer, and you can always count on me. When things don’t go the way you would like, I am here to offer you comfort. I do not want to shape you but to accompany you on your journey of discovering your many abilities.”

This is the nourishment that a relationship of secure attachment provides.

We all have the capacity to be a clown, to be forgetful, to be irresponsible, to complain sometimes, and we all have the capacity to be the opposite of all these things sometimes. We are all human. Surely if we can see this in ourselves, we can accept this in our children and students, and develop the necessary patience to support their development and wait for the qualities of maturity to develop in their right season.