Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. – ancient proverb
Our two young sons have taken to keeping ants as their pets. Inspired by a local ant exhibition, the boys were fascinated by these little insects, and persuaded my wife to allow them to bring home a formicarium (where the ants are housed).
We then went hunting for queen ants, and now we have two separate ant colonies; at least that’s what they will become once the eggs hatch and larvae begin to grow.
The ancient proverb above reminds us to consider the ways of the ant and be wise. It highlights how the ants persevere in their task of gathering their provisions each summer, to prepare for the gruelling winter when there is no food to be found.
Like the ant, it is important for our kids to learn how to persevere. This has been a difficult task for us recently, as our boys have been having issues with their studies, and at times it seems easier to allow them to give up.
But as parents, we’d try to encourage them to press on in all that they do. In this article, I will share 5 important strategies to help us teach our kids how to persevere.
Our kids learn to persevere when someone is there to walk with them; and all the more so if that someone is their parent.
1. Walk with our children
Our boys recently took part in the Brave Race, a unique nine-obstacle course intended to help children aged 4-12 learn about strength, courage and bravery. While our 9-year-old was all set to go for the race even before we arrived at the event, our 7-year-old was not so sure.
However, all fears were cast to the wind when one of his friends, exactly a year younger than him, promised to walk with him during the race. This gave him the courage to run the race and eventually complete it. Our kids learn to persevere when someone is there to walk with them; and all the more so if that someone is their parent.
2. Deal with their root anxieties
When our children refuse to do something, it’s often not because they don’t want to do it. Conversely, kids may want to complete tasks assigned by us, but they may not always have the emotional strength to do so. We discovered this when we asked our elder son why he was so afraid of his studies. It surprised us to learn that the reason why he did not want to do his work was that he feared he would not complete it to perfection.
It was the fear of perfection, not a lack of desire, that was a stumbling block. Knowing this, we helped him come to terms with the idea that nobody is perfect and that he does good work most of the time. When we were able to identify and address his root anxiety, this gave him a semblance of calmness, and he was able to proceed with the task ahead of him.
3. Scaffold the task
How often are we able to complete all our tasks, especially if they are huge projects that require a massive amount of time to complete? Children likewise experience similar worries. If they are faced with a colossal task that seems impossible to do, they would more likely choose to avoid the job, and hopefully not be let off the hook.
4. Evaluate the goal
What are the goals that we have for our children? Is this a long-term target or are its implications short-term? My wife and I during our wedding anniversary to reflect and answer three important questions about our marriage and parenting. The first two are couple-centric:
- In what way have I been a good husband/wife?
- In what way can I improve as a husband/wife?
The third question is about our kids, and we ask ourselves what is one goal that we hope for each of our children to achieve. This goal is updated on a regular basis – either when the objective is met, or when we feel that we should focus on another area to help our child improve himself.
5. Celebrate the process and not the results
Instead of fixating on results and grades, we can choose to recognise what the child has learnt over a certain period, be it an attitude, a character trait such as kindness, or in the area of content learning.
For instance, we spare no effort when our children complete a particular learning milestone, and celebrate with a nice meal or a fun time out. By doing so, we are telling our children that it is not about achieving the best results; instead, everything that they manage to learn or complete is an accomplishment, and should be cherished and celebrated.
Everything that they manage to learn or complete is an accomplishment, and should be cherished and celebrated.
Consider the ant
It is quite interesting to observe the behaviour of ants. The insects seem to be bound by a specific communication code which helps them to travel from place to place looking for food to feed their colony and to store food when the weather gets colder. And they persevere in spite of all odds. If we can teach our children a lesson from the work ethic of ants, and also support them in their own individual journeys through life’s challenges with the 5 strategies above, I believe we will make good headway in imparting this essential life skill.
© 2019 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Mark Lim is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy and counselling agency which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys aged 9 and 7.
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