My oldest daughter is not the world's best speller. She has to study really hard for her spelling tests. She usually gets good grades in spelling, but it's not easy. She puts in a lot of work to get those grades. When she was younger, I used to get frustrated. I make my living as an editor, correcting other people's spelling and grammar mistakes. Until I started working with my daughter, I just assumed that people who couldn't spell weren't trying hard enough. Through working with my daughter on her spelling, I realized that being able to spell is something that you either have naturally or you have to work really hard at to get right. It all has to do with how you process what you hear in your brain. My oldest daughter doesn't ever hear every sound in a word. Her brain hears the word, knows what it is, but doesn't break it down into its separate sounds. My brain, on the other hand, hears a word, draws a picture of it in my head and hears every single letter. So, spelling comes naturally to me, but requires perseverance to master on the part of my daughter.
I've been pondering what we teach our kids about perseverance since I wrote this post on the topic last week. And I've discovered that much of what I'm teaching my girls about perseverance is wrong. So often, I tell my kids to just work harder and keep trying without considering whether that's actually the right thing to do.
Both of my girls play sports where injuries happen more frequently than I'd like to think about. Knowing when they're hurt badly enough to come off the ice or the field and when they should just shake it off and go on is a tough call sometimes. The same is true when teaching our kids when to persevere and when to throw in the towel.
Our culture reveres the story of the person who pushes on through long odds to triumph. We love the stories of the underdog, the stories of the athlete who finished the race despite being in pain. Yet, sometimes, throwing in the towel is the smarter move.
Childhood is a time of discovery. It's a time when kids begin to learn about themselves. They discover things that they are good at and things that they don't excel at. They begin to make choices about the things they like to do and the things they don't. Too often, I see kids trying things they aren't particularly interested in because their parents want them to or their friends are involved. Then, when they don't enjoy it, we tell them to just persevere through it. We tell them to just push through and it will get better.
Except, it might not. God created us all to be different. He gave our kids each a different personality and different talents. He didn't make them miniature copies of us. He created them to be their own people. If our kids try something and discover that they don't enjoy it, they're not good at it and it's a chore to take them to the activity, then it's time to let them move on to something else.
There are some things that it's worth persevering through -- school, difficult circumstances in pursuit of God's will, tough times in a relationship -- but there are some things that simply aren't worth the agony. If you're in one of those situations, have your child finish out the season or session, then move on to something else. Learning to persevere when it matters is important. Learning perseverance when it doesn't is just miserable.
Paul knew what it meant to persevere in the important things. In Philippians 3:12-14, he says, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Pressing on toward the goal of becoming like Jesus and sharing Him with others is a goal worth persevering for. Pushing our kids to persevere to obtain some goal God didn't design them to gain isn't.
If your child is unhappy in an activity, evaluate the reasons. Decide whether you're pushing your child to persevere in an activity that he wasn't designed for. If it's not reaching the ultimate goal of molding character to be more like Jesus or graduating from school, then maybe it's time to move on to something else. Persevering just to persevere isn't getting you or your child anything but misery.
Choose wisely the things in which you push your child to persevere. We want our kids to be able to recognize that there are times to persevere and times to move on to something else. Teaching that type of discernment begins now, when the stakes are small, so that later, when the stakes are larger, our kids have the tools to make choices about what is worthy of their energy and what is not.