Persistence pays off

Mum-of-three Amy Vickers discusses how to encourage your child to have a healthy level of persistence.

It is something parents do without thinking in order to coach their kids to learn, but most likely very few will use the word regularly.

Persistence, or the art of trying something until you succeed, is such a major part of parenting and growing up that we don’t realise we’re doing it most of the time. I’ll wager many parents don’t even call it by its name, possibly calling it ‘patience’, ‘resilience’ or ‘encouragement’.


I used it recently, when trying to get my youngest to eat a morsel of fish pie. Every mealtime in our house is a battle of wills: he plays with his food and I encourage him to eat. After 10 minutes of futile verbal encouragement, I give in, pick up his spoon and start to bribe it into his mouth. It’s an arduous regular occurrence, which makes me feel frustrated in my persistence at getting some decent food in their bellies. They’ve got to eat something other than junk, right?
My children can be as strong-willed as me – so occasionally we might find ourselves at loggerheads over something that I wish they just would give in on. Yes, persistence is a wonderful trait in someone, essential to accomplishing many things in life, but at what point does wilful stubbornness become too much and the person becomes so annoying that it becomes a negative trait? We’ve all see toddlers melt down when they can’t get something they want – so our job as parents is to show them how to master something without getting too frustrated.

Is persistence a good trait to have?

I asked friends if persistence in children was positive or negative. Many agreed it was a mix of both albeit irritating at times – and that it’s probably a good quality for them to have as they get older, even if it’s hard to listen to when they won’t take no for an answer.
The way I see it, persistence is all about inner strength and both parties having the patience to teach or learn a new life skill, such as riding a bike, eating dinner, using cutlery, using the toilet, saying please and thank you, playing a sport. As parents, we may not know it, but we use persistence in every aspect of our daily lives, from encouraging our children to eat vegetables to going to bed at a reasonable hour, which is a nightly battle in our house.

Children would not make any progress in life without persistence – both from parents and themselves. My three year old has just successfully graduated from potty training school and I’ve happily given away all of my potties for good. I’m trying to teach my eldest to tie his shoe laces at the moment, but he’s all fingers and thumbs, so we’ll have to keep revisiting that one. And my five-year-old daughter mastered how to walk on a tight-rope at a festival last weekend – much to her inner delight.

Out of the safety zone

I believe we all need to be put out of our comfort zones every so often in order to grow as people. I often force myself to get up in front of groups so that I can overcome my fears, and I try to encourage my kids to similarly overcome their fears, which sometimes means role-playing their fears such as being on a stage in a school show.


I’m also a big fan of telling my kids I’m proud of them for their achievements – and asking if they are proud of themselves. I’d love them to see how skilled they really are and realise they can do anything if they try – I’m a bit no nonsense sometimes in that I’ll keep encouraging them when they’re trying to give up. I don’t want to be pushy but I would like to foster feelings of self-sufficiency and self-esteem. “Come on, you can do it, I know you can,” is my stock answer to their frustrations, and “You did it! Well done! ” always brings a smile to their faces. By believing in them they feel empowered and more capable, and then guess what, suddenly they do it. Like teaching them to ride a bike. I told them what great balance they had and that I wouldn’t let them fall, and they were off: riding with no stabilisers at three and a half.

It pays off

Like most parents, I like politeness and manners in kids, so from the first moment my three could talk, I have probably prompted the words ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ some 50 times a day, which tediously over six years means I’ve said it about 100,000 time in total. Yes, I’m fed up of it, but miracles are finally happening – I’m getting reports back from playdates and grandparents that my “kids are so polite”, which is making me feel all gooey inside with happiness.

It’s weird the small pleasures we take in results. All that nagging over the years to pick their stuff up off the floor, ad nauseum, until I’ve bored myself silly, seems to be finally paying off and they’re not throwing things on the floor – as much!

A delicate balance

I prefer to think of it as ‘benign encouragement’ because nobody likes an incessant bloody-minded mum who will stop at nothing until her kid learns a lesson. It’s a delicate balancing act, as is all of parenting, but I’ve learnt to take deep breaths and keep an eye on the big picture goals such as nurturing self-love, enjoyment and self-satisfaction and trying not to stress the small stuff.

But it doesn’t matter if we don’t achieve everything – at least we’ve tried – and even though I’m espousing the benefits of persistence, I also want my kids to learn that it’s normal to feel frustrated if something doesn’t work out. It’s ok to give up if something is too far beyond their reach – and come to it later when they’re feeling more capable. All I want them to do is make a little effort to find something they’re good at, which will make me a happy mum so my work here is done.

More like this:

Building strong girls
How to improve concentration levels in children
Help your child to be streetwise

Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….