Teaching Persistence

As a former high school band director, I often told my students that sometimes the last thing I taught them was music.  It was life skills like teamwork and persistence that helped develop skills in them that they would use for the rest of their life.  The school year started with marching band in the late summer and most of the fall season.  It is a long haul to get a competitive marching show put together and would take several months of preparation before they would see the final product.  In short, it took persistence to have the show peak just at the state competition in early November each year.  The upperclassmen could see it because they had been there, they had the vision of a complete show and had experienced the joy of placing in competition.  That vision took some work to plant in the mind’s eye of the younger students.  I think this is a very important skill to teach kids and to follow through with them.

Too often kids are allowed to start something that takes a long term commitment, like playing a musical instrument.  It’s cool at first, then drudgery sets in.  Suddenly, practicing night after night isn’t so much fun and the progress is slow.  It is just then that parents have a teachable moment to help kids to understand persistence.  But how does this work?  How do you get someone to stick with something even when the going is tough?

I believe the first step is to help them set their own vision.  What do they hope to do with this goal?  Encourage them to daydream, to step back and challenge yourself to create something.  So you think of an idea in your subconscious mind and then you start to some mental tryout.  The idea then moves into your subconscious mind where it sees a new idea.  It compares it to your programming and if it doesn’t match, it begins to sabotage it.  Thoughts like, “You can’t do that.”  “Who do you think you are?”  “No one in your family has those kinds of skills.”  “If you do that, you will push your family members away with your success.”  So we lay it aside and think, well, maybe so, it was a long shot.

That’s when you want to do a little war with your subconscious mind.  You can say something like, “Well, I know, but what if it did happen?  What would it look like?”  What would it feel like to be successful in that area?”  Your subconscious mind wants to keep things in the normal vein of thinking, but when we explain to kids that this type of thinking will not bring them forward in life, they begin to understand.  Help them to work to keep the idea alive.

As a high school band director, I would show kids video of the band performing at high levels.  I would show them a computerized video of the drill that they were about to spend weeks learning and perfecting.  Often, before we even started teaching the show, they would already have a good idea of how the formations unfolded.  This vision, set something new in their subconscious mind so that when it went to compare what they were learning with our goal, there was already a format laid down.

Here’s what I know, Persistence is one of the life skills that kids really need to learn.  There are no shortcuts to learning it and it takes perseverance and determination in order to make something happen.  But when you do, when you’re successful, they wonderful sense of accomplishment is unparalleled.

Yours for Better Parenting,