Character Building: The Value of Persistence

CoachMi wrote a blog post some time back about a topic that has been at the top of my mind for some time now: Tipping Points and Dips – the Value of Persistence. The point she raised, which I felt was an important one, was about teaching children the value of persistence. She talked about the difficulties she had been having with her son in getting him to practice playing the piano and her fear of turning into a Tiger Mum which is something she does not want to be.

When I first started Aristotle with music, the lady at the Yamaha Music Center said that there were two ways to approach music lessons – you could treat the lessons as something fun or you could approach them like school (in other words, you have to do it whether you like it or not). I opted for the former because I wanted Aristotle to discover the joy of learning the piano like I did and want to learn music for himself. When he resisted music lessons, I let him quit because I didn’t want to force music on him and make him hate it. I thought at the time I was doing the right thing. Aristotle was 3 years old at the time.

Aristotle is now 4 years old, soon to be 5. A couple of months back, he told me, “Mummy, I don’t like school. I want to stop school. Can you cancel it?”

It isn’t just school. This attitude of “quitting” and “cancelling” whatever he doesn’t like has persisted through a number of activities and it’s starting to bother me. In that one instance, he has realised that if he doesn’t want to do something, all he has to do is put up resistance and I’ll let him off the hook. In Yamaha music, he would do the opposite of whatever the teacher said. In school, he started acting up – he refused to pack up after himself, he shouted at the top of his lungs, he punched another child (very un-Aristotle behaviour! Something I would expect from Hercules but NOT Aristotle!) and just generally being disagreeable. The rowdy behaviour stopped after I made it very clear to him that school was not something he could cancel – like it or not, school was here to stay.

Although I disagreed with Amy Chuah’s methods, there is one thing I do agree with – that it takes practice to get good at something and it is only when you are good at it that it becomes enjoyable. The underlying point to her methods is the teaching of persistence which is a good characteristic for any person to have. Without persistence, you will never becoming successful in anything.

When Amy Chuah published her book “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mum”, many parents balked at her methods. Some of us shied away from it and vowed we would never be like that. However, in rejecting her methods, there is also a danger of moving too far in the opposite direction. While it might seem Amy Chua-ish to insist that your child practice piano and continue taking music lessons, the imporant message to your child should be the value of persistence. If you keep practicing, you will get better at it. When you get better at it, you might discover that you enjoy it. But if you never give your child that nudge, he may never discover this for himself.

Let’s face it, even as adults, we sometimes require motivation from friends and family to “keep going” when all we want to do is “give up”. Some of us even hire professionals to whip our behinds when we start to slack off – one example that comes to mind are fitness trainers. Of course, as adults, we understand the reasons behind it better than a child might so it may require a different approach when you are dealing with a child. Unfortunately, that approach may seem “Tiger Mum-ish”.

It is a grey area and one that many other mothers have in common as I have noticed from the Well-Train Mind Forum thread: “guiding potential vs pushing too hard“. I have had the same experience with Aristotle who will insist activity X is to hard for him but when we persist through it, he can do it. The discovery that he can do it is also an added value to him because it provides him with the confidence boost.

So recently when Aristotle told me he wanted to stop Monster Tennis, I refused. Before he started, he was so sure he wanted the classes and he begged me to let him do it. I suspect that he may be experiencing a dip that he will bounce out of if we can  persist through it. We had a similar experience with his Art classes – he wanted to stop them, too, but I insisted and now he tells me he likes art classes again.

I guess the take-home message is that sometimes a little bit of “pushing” is necessary. Just like everything else in life, the key is to find the balance between not pushing at all and pushing too hard.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

11 thoughts on “Character Building: The Value of Persistence

  1. Reminds me of a common scenario during mealtimes: e.g. Vee says he wants a slice of apple. Takes a bite then says he doesn’t want it anymore. Too bad, he has a Tigeress as a mum, he MUST finish that slice before leaving the table.

    As for enrichment classes, for an older child, you can set an agreement with him. I learnt this from a mum of 5. Her eldest son (7 years old) wanted to learn playing the piano. She made a him think through it carefully and sign a contract that he would continue until grade 8. This method worked for all her 5 kids.


    1. MieVee – Contract sounds like a great idea for older children. In the meantime, I have to just knuckle down and ride the storm I guess…

      Coach Mi – great suggestion for music classes. Right now Aristotle does Art and Tennis – both of which don’t really have “homework” so we don’t have the same issues. It’s more to do with getting into class that I struggle. I must remember your suggestion for the future though.

      FZ – Yeah, hubby keeps reminding me that Aristotle is young and perhaps I expect too much from him. I guess I just fear that he will grow up not being able to handle the challenge when things get too hard if he is so used to everything being easy (as it appears to be for him now at school). My task at home is to help him learn to face challenges with a positive attitude.


  2. A little update on my children! With my older child (6 y.o) who was also struggling with the practising, we started to identify that there was a pattern to her practising struggles. Monday is piano lesson day and when she comes home for her first practice, it’s usually the hardest day by far and we fondly call this the “never, never day” as in “I will never, never, be able to do it”. Then Tuesday becomes the “It’s getting better day” , Wednesday the “It’s not so bad day”, Thursday the “It’s quite good”, Friday…. Saturday….. etc. until we reach Sunday’s practice and “It’s fantastic!”

    So when it gets really hard, I ask her are you having a “never, never” day? Remember when we keep going, we get to “It’s fantastic”? This has helped her tremendously in recognising that persistence brings benefits and she is very proud of herself when she gets to “It’s fantastic” day when she struts around like a peacock!

    I won’t say it’s easy but I do believe that I have moved through MY “dip”!

    p.s. my blog is shortly moving to


  3. I think it’s very common for a very child complaining about having to go to school everyday! this too happens to my daughter who is not a school-going child, then I look at what she has to do on that day and realized she has to do many questions say 50/100 Qs in a given time, so I then ask her home-teacher to slow that pace for that particular day and then it gets better for the rest of the lessons subsequently.

    Same thing happens to piano. Initially when she did piano, an one-hour-long lesson, she would give me teary eyes for having to practice new songs at home, complaining of fingers pain, so at one point I was about to quit thinking it might be tough for a young girl to do, then things changed when I also signed her up to a very relaxed music group class that she started to realize that music was fun and her teacher was interesting, so onwards she never gave me any teary eyes anymore, and now I think it’s very lucky of me not quitting the piano lesson because her tracher commented she is a much much advanced learner, so, I think sometimes we just have to pull through and find ways to relieve the child’s pressure, because I realize what the child is doing now is much harder our time.

    Don’t worry, it’s kind of normal.


  4. I really find myself in this great story, because me and my wife have same problems with our son, he is 6 years old and he is allready arguing with both of us, sometimes doesn`t even listen what we say to him, than shouting at us… I hope that the situaiton will change soon.



  5. A few months ago, my daughter use to say things like ” I cannot do it” when given a task like spelling, writting or playing piano. She gives up easily. I was a little worried at that time because I see this as a negative attitude.

    What I did is to tell her positive affirmation every night. Eventually she will say it to herself every night. Following tweedlewink -Expand your heart, expand your mind, You can achieve your highest potential and well done. Over time she does not say things like “I cannot do it anymore”. I also make her realised that it is her effort and practice that resulted in being good at something.

    I realised that once my daughter is good at something, she loves doing it. One of my experience is when my daughter was given the task of playing “Hanon exercise” during her first piano lesson. We were told to practice them at home with both hands. In my mind, I knew that it was quite impossible to play with both hands for a 3 year old child. Nevertheless, we practice everyday for one week. She would cry and tell me she cannot do it. I would persuade her to try. She was still not able to play with both hands after a week. However, during her second piano class somehow she managed to play with both hands and she smile at me as if she was amaze that she did it. After the class, I ask if she heard her piano teacher comment about how good she played. My daughter told me that it was because she practice them.


    1. Great one Pei-Lin. I have done the positive affirmation with Hercules because we watch the TW DVDs together. Unfortunately, I was not consistent with it for Aristotle who probably needs it even more because of the nature of his personality… I must remember to do it more with him.


  6. HI Shenli,

    This is way I encourage my daughter when she was ” down”, when she doesn’t like to practice, when she doesn’t like to do repetitive works that she claimed she had done it before…….

    And I don’t mind “white lies” as a form of encouragement . I don’t mind as long as it helps my kid to feel good, to improve, say in a day or twos when Aristotle had done something real well, then you may want to tell him how amazing he was because, for instance : ” the aunty next door claimed he was good at Art or the teacher just rang me to say how good he was in school, that he was putting effort to his school works, BUT you ( parents) must continue to reinforce further to say ” Do you know why ? Because you were hardworking, and you put in a lot of practice……. Gosh! Why are you so good at that, So unbelievable ! Tell me how you manage to do it ? Oh, Can you TEACH me how to do it ?”

    This kind of positive affirmation has been repeatedly used to solve my daughter’s of “down”.

    Hope this works to Aristotle. Perhaps you may also find a copy of historian scientist on Aristotle, tell him why Aristotle is his nickname, why this man is respected and great until now, so tell him one day he “CAN BE” as great as Aristotle. I find Biographies on some positive great men are just so great to teach our child very good values.

    Shichida’s has a set of flashcards on historian great men too. That ‘s also how V finds Thomas A Edisson her hero.


    1. FZ – I’ve never liked telling my children “white lies” particularly the kind our parents were fond of, e.g. “If you do ‘xyz’, the policement are going to come and take you away.” When in reality the policement wouldn’t care whether or not your child did ‘xyz’. However, I think the kind of “white lies” you’ve mentioned are acceptable because they bolster a child’s confidence and promotes good things. Besides, who is to say that her teacher didn’t think that but never said it?

      BTW… do you mind to share with me where you managed to get the shichida flashcards on historians?


  7. I bought through a friend who happened to be in Shichida’s. But the one I bought is in Japanese language, so basically I can’t use any of the information shown at back of the cards. Nevertheless I used that as a base knowledge for me to make another set of flash cards on historians in English. That said, the best is still reading any biography books on historians.


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