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Persistence in the First Plane

April 18, 2018

 

We may hope for a peaceful future for our children, that they are successful and supported throughout their lives. We may want to protect them from every struggle, to keep them from feeling too sad, to shield them from disappointment. But despite our best intentions, our children will feel sadness. They will have times when things don't go their way, when the world treats them unfairly, when they are excluded, when they fail. 

 

If we focus our parenting on averting sadness, we, too, will inevitably fail. 

 

But if we focus our parenting, instead, on supporting our children to develop persistence, we can protect something far more valuable than their ease from moment to moment. We can protect their capacity to move through the challenges that we can't protect them from. 

 

In the First Plane, we can support the development of persistence most effectively by modeling for them how to respond when they fail. Think of all the new skills children develop in these critical first years, from walking to talking to learning about Math and beginning to read. Every new encounter is an opportunity for something to go wrong. When your child stumbles, however they do so, remind them of their capacity to recoup. "You fell down! You can try again." "That box is heavy! Keep going!"

 

Avoid, when you can, sweeping in to do things for your child. Even when you can complete a task faster and more efficiently than your child, let them struggle to manage it themselves. It may take longer for your child to put on their own shoes. Let it take longer. When you do things for them that they can do themselves, you take from them the opportunity to practice persisting. You suggest to them, without ever saying a word, that they lack the capacity to stick with challenging tasks, and you teach them, instead, to rely on other people. Don't worry so much about whether the shoes are on the right foot or the shirt is on forward. In these early years, it's more important that children struggle through completing tasks they can complete than that they master them to the same proficiency as an adult. 

 

In the classroom, we offer endless opportunities for persistence. Children has as much time as they need with materials that correct themselves, so the children are able to self-assess their progress. But we also support this by offering environments that children can master. We don't ask them to be able to complete 10,000 piece puzzles on their own. Instead, we give them simple manipulatives, until they are ready to move on to slightly more challenging ones, until they are ready to move on to ones a bit more challenging, and so on. 

 

At home, try to consider what things your child can do independently, even if they can't do them as well as you would. Consider how, instead of doing things for your child that they can do themselves, you might change the pace or time allowed for their own preparations. How can you give them more time instead of more intervention? Can you offer them support through your companionship instead of your fine motor skills, staying nearby to coach them gently through frustrations but letting them do the work themselves? 

 

By creating spaces with manageable challenges, and then allowing children the time to persist through those challenges without doing it for them, we remind them that they have the capacity to work through hard things. We give them real experience with sticking with hard work We teach them that focus and persistence are more important than the perfectly buttoned sweater. And we protect in them their own endurance and instill in them an awareness of their own agency, far more valuable skills. 

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