At the Back-to-School Night parent meeting, my son's kindergarten teacher announced that a student asking for help with shoe-tying anytime after Christmas would be gently encouraged to complete the task on his or her own. In other words, as easy as Velcro is for my son (and by extension, his parents), it's time for my boy to man up and learn how to tie his shoes.
Unfortunately, his patience is almost nonexistent. Within a minute of trying to make the initial loop, he gives up. When encouraged to continue, he breaks into tears, and claims, "I CAN'T!"
He is no different that so many students I've seen over the years-- whether it be shoe-tying, prepositional phrases, or algebra. The goal is to see if an adult will rush to the rescue. After all, it's easier to get dad to tie the shoes than to learn to do it on his own. What kids often lack is perseverance.
During childhood, the struggles requiring perseverance are often small: learning to tie shoes, dealing with an unkind student on the playground, or working through the multiplication tables. As adults, the struggles are deeper and more difficult.
I've seen adults suffering through cancer who persevere without complaint and without neglecting their responsibilities, believing that they'll beat the disease as long as they don't give up. I've seen adults struggling with the loss of a job who don't lose faith, trusting that they'll find something new as long as they keep trying. I've seen adults experiencing family problems who find the strength to bring their trials to prayer day in and day out, never ceasing to believe that their prayers will be answered.
Personally, I greatly admire people who have the ability to persevere through a struggle. This is a quality I want my children and students to have, since I know their lives will entail some kind of struggle.
For children to learn perseverance, then, requires that children experience struggle and difficulty on a small scale. Learning to carry her own backpack, or to tie his shoes, or to memorize the multiplication tables, or even learning to deal with an unkind student on the playground-- these are necessary "classrooms" for the lessons of perseverance.
What is required of parents and teachers who desire their children/students to learn never to give up in the face of difficulty?
- Patience: It will take time to break children of the "I Can't!" habit.
- Wisdom: Take the long view on the child's present struggles. Rushing to the rescue only stunts the child's growth.
- Leadership: Break the task at hand into smaller, more manageable chunks. Say, "Today we're just going to try to make the first loop with your shoelaces and get really good at it! Maybe tomorrow we can try the next one."
- Prayer: Often forgotten, but most important, prayer should be our first tactic when trying to help our children. Perseverance is closely linked to the virtue of fortitude, which is "firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good." (CCC, 1808) Virtues are gifts of the Holy Spirit, and that means prayer is our best hope.