This week, we are presenting an article that we shared a number of years ago, that is as relevant as ever. It is an abbreviated version of an article by Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld, educational consultant. Thank you to Mrs. Sarah Glatt, our Title I teacher, who first brought it to our attention.
Everybody knows Watty Piper’s classic children’s book, The Little Engine That Could, about a small, kind locomotive that pulled a train over a mountain. While the other engines were too tired or arrogant, the small train managed to pull the dolls and toys to the good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain. The message of this book is one of perseverance. Though the engine was small, she decided that she would try her best and chugged up the hill, motivating herself by saying “I think I can. I think I can…..” She refused to give up, even as she knew the odds were against her.The lesson of The Little Engine That Could is very important for children, especially in today’s fast-paced and instantly gratifying society. Advances in technology have made life significantly easier, but they have also made many of us expect everything in life to come to us without difficulty. To our chagrin, when there are tasks that require excess effort and exertion, we may not have the tools to motivate ourselves to continue to strive for our goal. This is where perseverance comes in.
What is Perseverance?
Perseverance is about sticking with a goal and steadfastly working to achieve that goal, even when everything does not work perfectly. There are many examples of famous people who persevered despite numerous setbacks and eventually became successful. Abraham Lincoln failed to be elected into the government seven times before becoming President of the United States at age 51. Walt Disney went bankrupt four times before creating Mickey Mouse and the Disney World empire; J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by twelve publishers before becoming a best selling phenomenon.
Why is Perseverance Important?
Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the light bulb and many other innovations dealing with electricity asserted, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” In other words, brilliance is not about how talented you are, but rather how hard you try.
The benefits of perseverance can be seen as early as children in preschool. Dr. Lisa Wright, of Teachers College, Colombia University explained that she interviewed three different four-year-olds about what they do when they get “stuck”. The first child replied, “I practice and practice until I get it done.” The second child said, “I ask my Mommy to help me.” And the last child simply stated, “I cry.” Dr. Wright used these three different children as examples of strategies that people employ in order to succeed when faced with challenges. Most likely, when faced with obstacles, both the first and second child will succeed (the first through her own strength and the second through her reliance on others). However, the third child, the one who cries when faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, lacks the skills to be successful at the task. So, if perseverance is a skill that we need in order to succeed in difficult undertakings, how can we teach it to ourselves and our children?
How Can we Teach Perseverance?
Like any other skill, perseverance is something that we have to learn how to do. Luckily there are some simple tips that encourage and build perseverance. For example:
Start Small: Pick a goal that is just beyond your reach. If you wanted to open your own catering business, you would begin by figuring out the menu to offer to your customers. This is a small task and will allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment when completed. Once the menu is finalized, you can begin thinking about what equipment you’ll need to create the food on your menu. Upon completion of each small goal, you move on to the next goal. The same applies to children – whether it’s school work, a craft project or a household chore.
Resist Jumping In:
If you see your child wrestling to open a bag of crackers, resist the urge to open it up for him. When you jump in with help every time you see your child struggle, you are signaling to him that he is incapable of doing anything on his own. Instead, unless your child is in danger, allow him to struggle and fail. Eventually he will try a new strategy and succeed.
Because perseverance is about trying even when you don’t succeed, give your child credit when she exhibits effort, regardless of the outcome. Say something like, “What an impressive effort!” “When you want something, you go after it to try to make it happen.” This sends a clear message to your child that you value effort, regardless of the result.
Lead by Example:
(This is a hard one..) If you give up when the going gets tough, you are teaching your children that quitting is a viable option. If you are fearful, for example, of driving in an unfamiliar area, share your efforts to overcome this challenge with your children. This perseverance will show your children that even if something is scary or hard, if we work at it, we can achieve our goal.
Persevering and perseverating are very different things. Persevering is about trying to achieve the same goal even when things are not working out perfectly. Perseverating, however, involves trying to achieve the goal through the same (unsuccessful) means over and over again. For example, if a child wants to get a ball from on top of a cabinet, but is not tall enough, he might try to jump to see if he can reach it. When jumping fails, he might try to bring a stool to stand on. If the stool fails as well, he might take a large textbook and place it on top of the stool to give him greater height. This is persevering. However, if this child tries jumping repeatedly without success, that would be considered perseverating. Do not get stuck on one strategy, explore many possibilities to achieve your goals.
Perseverance can enhance self-esteem. Perseverance is a skill that is manifest when we are struggling, not when things come easily. The Little Engine That Could made it over the mountain because she made the attempt and found encouragement by repeating to herself, “I think I can, I think I can.” When she was done, she puffed away whispering, “I thought I could, I thought I could.” This sense of accomplishment and renewed self-esteem is a wonderful result of perseverance. The more you try, the more likely you are to succeed. Then your child will smile and happily say, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
Rabbi Kalman Baumann