It can be hard for little ones to keep practicing a skill, especially when it’s difficult or causes frustration. For many children, this is because they are still developing the ability to regulate their emotions. You can help your child by joining her in paying attention to the task at hand, offering structure or strategies as needed, and giving lots of encouragement for small achievements along the way. Don’t forget that it’s okay to change plans or strategies as needed to move toward a final goal. Finally, when you acknowledge your child’s successful steps toward an end goal, it boosts her confidence and inspires her to keep practicing!
Strategies for supporting persistence in 3 to 5-year-olds: Practicing persistence can be simple and fun for preschoolers! Here are some strategies to help your child learn to persist by regulating her attention, actions, and emotions.
- Take it one step at a time. If your child is struggling to reach a goal, try breaking down the task into smaller steps. With smaller tasks, the goal becomes less overwhelming. And your child can see her progress along the way. You can also encourage your child to make a new plan. If your child is struggling to complete a task, suggest an alternative approach. Take a walk and come back to the activity. Or try a new way of approaching the problem or task.
- Point out times when you persist. Every time you model persistence, your child learns from that. For instance, if you’re having trouble learning a new sport keep a positive attitude and model persistence by saying, “I know if I keep practicing/trying I will get better.”
- Praise your child’s effort along the way. As your child works toward her goal, encourage each small step in the right direction. Don’t save all the celebrating until the end. Try using supportive words like, “I like the way you’re taking your time and being really careful as you work.” Encourage her to be satisfied with her best effort. Let her know that it’s okay when getting something wrong because she is still learning something new. Help her to feel proud of her accomplishments, big or small. Explain to her that “proud” is when you feel really good about something you did.
- The power of “yet”. This simple word conveys the idea that it takes practice, commitment, and self-control to learn new things. It’s not that your child can’t do something. It’s that she just can’t do it “yet.” This idea can give your child the encouragement she needs to persist.
Activities to do together with your child to develop persistence: These ideas build on the strategies above. Make waiting fun with these everyday activities for passing the time!
- Read books about persistence. Books like The Persistent Owl do a wonderful job modeling how we can persist through challenge and frustration in order to reach a goal. Look for strategies the characters in the book use to keep going, like repeating, “I think I can, I think I can.” Encourage your child to use those strategies, too!
- Plan ahead for success. Think about how you can create a supportive environment to help your child reach her goal. If she’s working on dressing herself, work together to choose her clothes ahead of time and lay them out so they’re easy for her to reach, they’re facing the right direction (e.g., front of shirt facing away), and they’re arranged in the order she should put them on (underwear first, etc.).
- Make a sticker chart. Make a sticker chart that allows your child to track and celebrate progress toward her goal. At first, you can use stickers to celebrate her attempts. Then, you can progress to successful days or even weeks. The important thing is to celebrate her progress!
Self-regulation and persistence are skills that all of us can learn and continually improve. With the right support, strategies, and practice, your child can develop skills she’ll use in all areas of school and life. As she learns to control her attention, emotions, and actions she’ll be prepared to meet any goal she sets for herself!