Some Thoughts on Teaching Perseverance to Children & Young People: Part Two

This e-Pistle entry is the tenth article in a series begun in the previous nine posts and is a continuation of last month’s article.

A lot of training that we parents do with our children is reactive, In other words, we observe them doing things or thinking in a way that we do not want, and so we seek to correct and instruct them. This is particularly true in the area of discipline. It is not as natural for us to develop proactive strategies. Yet, developing intelligent foresight, and training our children accordingly, may be among the most effective of parenting skills.

Teaching and encouraging our children and young people to persevere under difficulty seems an exclusively reactive operation. First comes the hardship or suffering; then come our efforts to train them to persevere. But there are a couple of things that I can think of that will potentially put our children in the position of facing hardship, with the goal of providing opportunity for them to practice perseverance. We will deal with one of these ideas at the end of next month’s article. The first is helping them to try new things.

Trying New Things

Some of our children may not need anyone prompting them to take chances. But, at one time or another, in some area or another, all of our children will need encouragement to give something new a try. There is the natural apprehension of the unknown, the fear of failure, the insecurity about one’s capabilities, and the reticence about that which is unfamiliar. Left to themselves, all children will withdraw from undertaking something that would be a good experience for them simply because of the discomfort and difficulty of trying something new.

Parents can look ahead to benefits that children and young people cannot yet comprehend. They can intentionally provide challenges that their children would not choose for themselves. It might be music, art, or sports lessons; trying out for an athletic team; getting involved in drama, speech, or debate; meeting new people; getting involved in a ministry effort; learning a craft or hobby; or spending time with older people. Such challenges will often bring about “suffering.” The child or young person will struggle to be successful in this new endeavor. He will endure the hurt of failing to achieve according to his desires. He may lose out to someone else. He may not perform according to his abilities. He will be presented with the necessity of persevering against adverse circumstances and/or conditions.

The Lord will teach our children lessons in these times that they could learn no other way. Like Paul, they will have the opportunity to learn the vital spiritual truth that God’s grace is sufficient for us, because His strength is best displayed against the backdrop of our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Don’t Quit, and Living with Decisions

A logical follow-up to encouraging our children to try new things is helping them to learn not to give up easily. This seems like the very definition of perseverance. But, there are two particular areas where our children and young people may need some instruction and support in order that they might develop the quality of perseverance.

One tendency that a lot of children have when faced with something they find difficult is the desire to quit. I have observed many parents who have just allowed or actively encouraged their children to give up on something they had begun simply because it became discouraging, frustrating, complicated, or hard for them. This is not only a big mistake, but it is also a waste of a tremendous opportunity. We have already noted the Scriptural teaching that suffering is the catalyst that brings about the development of perseverance. Here, the family is presented with a circumstance where both parents and child may grow in this character quality, because the parents must persevere through the difficulty of watching their child endure something that is hard for him, or not enjoyable, or beyond his ability to really excel. If the parents allow the child to escape from the hardship by quitting, they would be allowing themselves to escape their own hardship. Both parents and child would be quitting. They would not be making “every effort to add…to self-control, perseverance” (2 Peter 1:6).

The other and more positive side of this principle is learning to live with one’s decisions. Not only should we train our children not to be quitters, but we should help them to learn to build positively on choices that they make. In other words, make the best of it.

Sometimes a child wants to quit on something that has to do with a circumstance that someone else – perhaps a parent or teacher – has brought upon him. The desire to quit is somewhat understandable because the child has no “ownership” of the particular thing to which he has been committed through someone else’s decision. When the difficulty, complication, frustration, unpleasantness, or suffering comes as a result of his own choices, the child needs encouragement to persevere because of the commitment he himself has made. Examples might be the choice to pursue learning a particular instrument, or trying out for a team, or agreeing to be a part of a ministry effort. If we are training our children to make decisions, part of that training must include the courage and perseverance to stand by the decisions they have made.

Learning not to quit and learning to live with one’s decisions have far reaching implications on a person’s life. Not only does this help to set patterns of behavior that will shape one’s character for a lifetime, but it is especially important in the most important human commitments for which God has designed us: marriage and parenting. If our children learn to quit and to be slaves to the caprices of their emotions, this will not only keep them from developing perseverance, but it will also prevent them from developing another vitally important quality that is necessary for success in relationships: faithfulness.

We will continue with “Some Thoughts on Teaching Perseverance to Children and Young People” in the next e-Pistle entry. Next e-Pistle points: Facing Consequences, Learning from Your Mistakes, and Doing the Right Thing.