The Perseverance Zone

Babies naturally possess an astonishing determinedness. Think of the pre-crawler; a baby will scoot herself over to a much-wanted toy that is juuuust out of reach. Think of the toddler known for sometimes stubborn attempts to “do it myself.” We don’t always recognize this as a positive trait. But, this stick-to-it-ness is actually perseverance and it helps your child stretch his skills.

The adults in a child’s life are modeling perseverance. That can be parents, grandparents (that’s me!), child care providers and the neighbor next door. According to Zero to Three, “New science suggests that your child isn’t just imitating you, they’re learning from your example! Babies as young as 15 months learn determination just by watching their parents!”

Chart showing zone of proximal development NOT TOO EASY
It’s never too early to encourage perseverance! Adults can help children enter what’s known in education as the “zone of proximal development.” Give children tasks and problems that are appropriate to their developmental level – not too easy, but not too hard to accomplish. Skills grow when the task is achievable.

Puzzles are a good place to start. The simplest puzzle is one piece with handles, allowing the youngest puzzle solver to gain mastery. Advance your child’s hand and eye coordination with wooden and plastic puzzles with a few pieces. Once babies and toddlers figure out how the pieces fit, they may do it over and over again with great zeal, proud of their new-found skill.

I loved watching my then 2-year-old granddaughter turn and turn a puzzle piece around until she triumphantly got it to fit. She’d look up at me with such a satisfied grin. Proud of her achievement, she’d dump the puzzle out and start over again to my equally proud grandmotherly cheers!

You can consciously model perseverance for your children. During your routine daily activities, talk about things that are hard for you – opening a sticky jar lid, getting a sleeping bag back in its too-small bag (yeah, right!), or trying a new recipe, for example. By talking out loud, you can remind your child that even adults need to practice perseverance every day and celebrate the results.

It isn’t the trial and error of perseverance that’s the real problem. It’s the lack of perseverance that can become the problem. Some children will abandon a task or problem if it feels too hard. If that is your child, it’s good to understand that the tendency to give up is harder to counteract as your child grows. Take advantage of the early years and use some of these ideas to help build this critical skill:
Baby lays on back looking at a picture book of baby faces

  • Read “The Little Engine that Could” and talk to your child about how the smallest engine succeeded in the task because he thought he could and he kept trying.
  • Check the recommended age levels on puzzles and games, and then monitor your child’s success before moving on to harder ones. Try to find those that challenge them just a little, but are still do-able.
  • Encourage and reinforce your child’s perseverance by focusing on their effort: “Good for you! That was tricky, but you stuck with it!”

It’s easy to slip into the habit of helping your child do things that they think are too hard. That might be things like snapping their pants, brushing their own hair, or picking up toys. It might be faster to do it for them or there are days where you just don’t want to hear their protests. But, as adults, we know that everything we need to do is not fun or easy (think of doing your taxes!). When you use your own stick-to-it-ness to grow your child’s stick-to-it-ness, you’re both in the perseverance zone.

You’ll be glad you made the effort when your kids were small, as you see them grow and continue to stick with things that are a challenge. As a long-time early childhood educator and even more so as a parent and now a grandparent, I’ve seen first-hand how encouraging young children to stick with it pays off later. Take a few extra minutes as your baby scoots toward that toy and watch her start gaining the independence, perseverance, and confidence that sets her up for success in school and in her adult life.

Post in the comments below and I will gladly answer back!

About Kathy Barry

I am a wife, mother and very busy grandmother learning more every day about the fascinating world of early learning. I’ve put my Master of Arts in Early Childhood to excellent use as an educator, parent, and grandparent. I am now retired from my professional role as executive director of Early Childhood Services for the Shasta County Office of Education and eager to share some Bits of Early Wisdom.
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One Response to The Perseverance Zone

  1.' Tracy Ray says:

    Great to read your Blog nd find your expertise continues to be shared…
    Tracy Ray

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