Build a Bulldog: Improve a Child’s Persistence

Bulldogs are known for their stubbornness and single-mindedness. They can be hard to train, but once they have their focus they do not give up. Persistence and single-mindedness are inborn traits in some children as well. Many parents of willful children can recall that their child displayed these tendencies even as an infant. It is a sometimes frustrating coincidence that stubbornness and argumentativeness are not always welcome yet go hand-in-hand with the highly-valued characteristics of persistence and sustained effort. Parents and educators can assist children in making this “bulldoggishness” into something positive that will serve them throughout their lives by helping them build habits that improve their persistence on difficult tasks. In this edition of the LearningWorks for Kids Beyond Games series we suggest strategies that can help a child improve the habits that build persistence.

Provide incentives. A child who tends to rush through his work and does not want to go back and check it may frequently make careless errors and is likely to get lower grades and learn less. He might benefit from being rewarded for taking the time to check his work with small incentives such as a later bedtime, a movie rental, or a trip to the ice cream store. This could help him to see the benefits of checking and to want to do it without prompting.

Help him see beyond himself. Point out the need to watch a young child vigilantly to ensure the child’s safety and talk about what could happen if someone is not persistently watchful when caring for another. Many high school health classes require youngsters to have a pretend baby that they need to care for on a continuing basis, taking the baby with them at all times and being responsible for feeding, bathing, and changing its diapers. This type of constant care can help youngsters understand the persistence required in many areas of life.

Let him move around. Sitting still may discourage task persistence. Even youngsters who do not experience problems with focus or attention can benefit from movement while learning. Encourage a child to stand, stretch, or sit on a bar stool or other elevated chair if this helps him to concentrate and keep working on a task. While this technique may not make the difference between a test score of an F and an A, it is likely to increase the amount of time he can effectively tune into his work.

Display pride in his progress. Give tangible indicators of his  progress based on his sustained effort at a task or goal. Celebrate the rewards of sustained effort seen in improvement on report cards or improved test scores by displaying them in a prominent place such as the refrigerator to prompt the rest of the family to offer their encouragement. Post photos of him missing a pitch at the start of a baseball season next to a picture of him smiling on first base after having hit the ball later on in the season. He could listen to before- and after-practice renditions performed on musical instruments so that he could hear his improvement through practice. Have him describe the steps he took to sustain his effort when talking with him about his progress.

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Complementing these core strategies with the use of apps, websites, and other technologies often leads to the best solutions to improve a child’s ability for building persistence habits. Some of the best tech tools to help a child with building persistence habits include:

Focus@willSometimes a bit of background noise can make all the difference when it comes to striking a rhythm and focusing on the task at hand. Focus@Will is an app that provides just that, with music from contemporary to classical as well as nature sounds.

despicablemeDespicable Me: Minion Rush combines the popular Pixar movie franchise with engaging gameplay that exercises many of the important executive function skills. Kids who have trouble with focus will find that their goal-directed persistence is challenged in a fun and exciting way, as they achieve a much higher score for each subtask the game presents them with.

Knightmare TowerKnightmare Tower is an action and combat game for Android and iPad that features fun, goofy graphics. Players’ focus will be tested as they fight their way through 40 increasingly difficult quests to save princesses.


Featured image: Flickr user Eduardo Merille

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