6 Keys to Teaching Determination to Children

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“I can’t do it,” my young son said the first time he set out to mow the lawn. We had been through the training process - learning how to gas up the lawn mower, how to prime the engine, how to start it, and how to mow the lawn in even strips, overlapping each one slightly. He had walked alongside me as I mowed, then I walked alongside him. We learned how to look at a point off in the distance and keep the line straight.

Full of determination, he told me he was ready to take over the mowing.

I watched in the background, coaching him gently as he mowed the first two strips up and back. He seemed to be doing well, so, wanting to show confidence in his abilities, I went inside.

Not ten minutes later, he was in the house, discouraged. “I just can’t keep the lines straight and the mower keeps stalling in tall grass. I guess I am just not cut out for lawn mowing.”

Even after all of our efforts to teach our kids that “You are a Parker, and that means you can do hard things,” our son was ready to throw in the towel and give up. Now, granted it was a very hot summer afternoon and maybe I had misjudged how difficult it might be. But, determination was an important family value, and I was going to use this teaching moment to reinforce the need for personal determination, even when the task ahead was hard.

Determination is a critical life skill and an attitude that fathers have to help their children develop.

 We have taught our kids that you stick with a task until it is done. We show determination when we persevere through difficulties and challenges. They needed to learn that practice makes perfect, that we don’t quit even if we want to, and that we complete things we start.  

This practice of determination manifests itself in many ways.

 It is needed when a son or daughter wants to because it is “too hard.” It is needed when a child commits to be in a school play and doesn’t get the role they hoped for. And when school and homework get overwhelming, they have to learn to keep going, even if it requires late nights and long weekends.

Recognizing how important determination can be for a child (and for us as adults), we have to undertake some specific strategies to teach determination in ways that children can learn to follow through when things get tough.

  1. Start early with puzzles and games.  Little kids love puzzles, but they often get frustrated and want to give up. Start when they are small with the wooden puzzles that have 4 or 5 shapes. Work with them until they get the concept, and then praise them when they do it well. If they get discouraged, stay with them and help them move on through. Games are also a good way to help the littlest kids figure out determination. Help them play the game all the way through to the end, even if they are losing.  
  2. Work on something that doesn’t come easy for them. Watch your children closely to see what might be difficult for them. For me, it was learning to l when I was young. My dad spent hours and hours in the backyard playing catch with me. I can’t imagine how boring that had to be for him since he was a very accomplished fast pitch softball pitcher and player. When they can master a skill for which they struggle, they learn that determination has a payoff.
  1. Get them into music lessons. In our family, were a given for all the kids. Not all of them stuck with it until they mastered the skill, but they had to give it several years and had to practice as the teacher required. We have one daughter who is quite talented at the piano, but they all learned the importance of staying with something through regular music lessons.  
  2. Set a good example of determination. When your kids see you persevere through things that are difficult, they will learn from your example.  Modeling behaviors that we hope our children will develop gives them a real life example of success. Let them know the projects at work that have been hard and how to you worked through them. Make and keep promises to them, no matter how hard it is to do.  
  3. Set some goals with them. Goal setting and following through with goals is an excellent way to teach determination and commitment. When kids have a goal and a plan, they can achieve almost anything.  Praise their accomplishments and celebrate their successes with their goals.
  1. Don’t protect them from failure. Often we are tempted as parents to protect our kids from the consequences of their choices. Obviously, we don’t let them be harmed physically, but if we always jump in to save them, they will never experience failure and the things they can learn from failure.  Help and encourage them to succeed. Remind them and coach them. But if, in the end, they fail, let them fall down and then help them pick up the pieces and learn from their experience.

Determination is an important skill for anyone who hopes to be successful. Children learn determination and commitment by having experiences (both positive and negative), by watching their parents demonstrate these traits, and by setting and achieving goals. Fathers need to play an important role in helping their children be determined and learn how to stay with things until they are through.