3 Simple Ways to Foster Persistence in Your Child

Persistence is the ability to stay involved in a task, even in the face of daunting challenges. It’s the willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes. And, persistence is a powerful characteristic of effective learning. A child’s stick-to-itiveness, and a parent’s supportive response, help foster that child’s future tenacity.

Developing persistence early in childhood has been shown by research to lead to later academic success, including a higher rate of college graduation. In other words, supporting the development of persistence in your child has positive consequences throughout his or her life.

A persistent person is, ultimately, resilient. (Click to learn 8 ways to foster resilience in your child.) Thus, a resilient child will benefit greatly from hearing regularly about, and practicing, persistence.

Teaching persistence takes…persistence. A young child benefits by hearing multiple examples of persistence and relating them to his or her everyday life. Here are three strategies you can use.


1. Read a story about persistence with your child.

The notion of not giving up, and the spirit of “I can do this,” are embodied in the well-loved, well-known children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper. As you read, enhance the drama in the little engine’s efforts and in the “I think I can” and “I thought I could” mantras. At the end, explain that the little engine was persistent. Even though she was small and it was hard work, she never gave up.

Talk about a time when your child was persistent and didn’t give up. Learning to walk is an example of persistent behavior. Explain to your child, “It took practice before you got better. You fell down a lot when you were learning to walk. That’s okay! We learn from simply trying, and figure out new or better ways of doing things.” Then ask, “When you are trying to learn something new, why don’t you give up? What makes you persist?” Summarize your child’s insights, celebrate his or her persistent behavior, and encourage your child to always be persistent when learning to do something new.


2. Tell your child the parable about a wise mule.

Read or paraphrase this classic tale of persistence—told and retold many times over the years. Its origin is unknown.

Shake It Off and Step Up

There once was a farmer who owned an old mule. One day, the mule fell into the farmer’s well. The farmer heard the mule braying for help.

The farmer felt sorry for the mule, but he couldn’t figure out how to save it. So, the farmer called together his neighbors, told them what had happened, and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well, thereby putting the mule out of his misery.

Initially, the old mule was hysterical! How could the farmer bury him?!?! But, as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling, and as the dirt continued to hit the mule’s back, a thought struck him. It suddenly dawned on the mule that every time a shovel-load of dirt landed on his back, he should shake it off and step up! This he did, blow after blow.

“Shake it off and step up…shake it off and step up…shake it off and step up!” he repeated to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows, or distressing the situation seemed, the old mule fought “panic” and just kept right on shaking it off and stepping up!

It wasn’t long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like it would bury the mule, actually saved him—all because of the way in which the mule handled his hardship.

Encourage your child to remember the mule the next time he or she is facing a difficult situation, then shake off any feelings of doubt, step up to meet the challenge, and try again. Being persistent will pay off in the end!

3. Use toys to help develop persistence in your child.

Toys that prompt trial and error approaches to solving a problem or achieving a goal offer endless opportunities for your child to learn persistence. For example, a set of wooden building blocks for your toddler, or a set of magnetic building sticks for your preschooler are perfect for creating developmentally appropriate challenges.

Early on, encourage your toddler to build block towers. Next, challenge him or her to make a bridge. Later, build a more complex structure and see if your child can replicate it.

A simple way to demonstrate how to use the magnetic building sticks is to create a one-dimensional house. On a flat surface, connect three sticks and balls to form a triangle “roof.” Then, use three sticks and two balls to form the “house,” and connect it to the roof. Label what you are doing and narrate your actions. You might say, “I’m going to make a house. I need enough sticks to make a square house and a triangle roof.” Invite your child to make another house like yours. Encourage your little one to combine the sticks and balls to make new shapes. Gradually build up to creating three-dimensional structures.


Your role as chief cheerleader is to encourage, support (giving help only when asked), and celebrate your child’s wins along the way.