01/06/2014 12:20 pm ET Updated Mar 08, 2014


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With the New Year upon us, I love to read what others say about resolutions or the one word they choose to represent 2014. While scrolling through Twitter reading such articles, I thought about a word that is often present in our home: Persistence.

Persistence is a quality that is respected by others, right? Being resilient and persistent is now said to be the biggest identifying factor in figuring out who will be successful. Not IQ. Not opportunities.

We hear amazing stories about those who achieved their goals after years of determination and unwavering focus.

  • The writer who received hundreds of "thanks, but no thanks" before finally receiving the acceptance letter.
  • The swimmer who finally reached the shores of Florida after several unsuccessful attempts and years of training.
  • The inventor, the business woman, the scientist, the artist that finally made it after years of work.
We speak of the value of persistence in adults. However, is this same characteristic encouraged in our children?

As the parent of a twice-exceptional son, I was told early on that he would be an expert negotiator. This opinion was not shared as positive news. It was a warning. I should be prepared.

My son has been described as compulsive, stubborn and argumentative. But these are negative explanations of the same characteristic that has allowed him to tolerate challenging social and learning issues.

Persistence should be celebrated, but it is often seen as irritating; especially by inflexible educators who don't appreciate the determination to finish something the way that my son envisions it. Creative problem-solving is supposedly valued, but not encouraged by many. It is time-consuming and takes energy away from the scheduled plans written in the lesson book.

As a teacher, I know that this is true; however, the discovery that comes from thinking outside the box and noticing a teachable moment is exciting for students. It allows for more questions, more discovery, more learning.

As a parent, a persistent child can be difficult. "No, you can't build a working robot, not tonight, not with our current supplies." This relentless drive sometimes turns into constant whining or complaining.

Often, when the desired goal is unattainable, at least for the moment, it can cause him to get stuck in his own persistence; blocking him from allowing others to offer or help or share solutions.

He gets confused by how I react to this persistence. Sometimes, I am frustrated by his persistence and then other times I use that same word as a way to encourage him to stick to it, don't give up.

Video games tend to bring out this discussion most these days; when the frustration becomes too much for him and I suggest a break, I am reminded of persistence.

"I can't quit! I want to try again! I think I know how to do it better this time!"

I have to appreciate his persistence, it isn't a characteristic that everyone possesses; but when it transforms into complete rigidness, it is hard to watch.

Is it possible to encourage healthy persistence?

Maybe persistence is seen as annoying until it results in an accomplishment that benefits others? An invention? A cure? A work of art?

So, what do you think? Do we treat persistence in children differently? The adults who are valued for their achievements today, were they persistent as children? Was this persistence seen as inflexibility?

Is persistence a good thing... or not?