“It’s too hard!” “I can’t do it!” “I’ll never be good at it!” “I give up!” Every parent has heard words like these, as your child gives up far too easily. You wince, because you don’t want your child to be a “quitter”. You want your child to learn to persevere, to face life with grit and resilience. To do hard things.
Some kids struggle with giving up more than other kids. Maybe your child’s personality leans toward the perfectionist side. It’s hard to accept a less than perfect outcome, so they give up as soon as they start to see imperfection.
Or maybe they just don’t care (and what’s to say they should?).
Or maybe other kids are mocking your child and your child doesn’t want to risk that vulnerability again.
Or your child feels your perfectionist tendency and is afraid of not measuring up to your expectations.
Or your child doesn’t have the vocabulary to process all the overwhelming negative feelings they experience when they face a challenge.
Or perhaps your little one has never seen overcoming adversity modeled as a good or pleasurable process.
If any of this feels familiar, take a deep breath. Don’t label your child who gives up easily as a quitter. Instead, dive into what it takes to raise a child with the grit needed to tackle life’s twists and turns.
A camping story: learning to embrace adversity for our kids
Lying in the tent, I (Lynne) was angry. Yet again our dream wilderness canoe trip had turned into a week of horrible weather.
Because of pervasive bad weather throughout each of our previous four trips, we had intentionally picked the “statistically best average weather week” of the summer: the last week in July. Ha.
This time we were pummeled by a ferocious, relentless, and cold wind that threatened to blow away our tents and kept us trapped for four days on the same little island.
(We learned later that after months of unusually hot weather, this trip was on the exact four days of record-breaking continuous straight-line winds averaging 30-40 mph, with average temps in the 40’s. At least it blew all the bugs away!)
The kids had been quite resilient through all of this, working hard and creating fun where there seemed to be none. They each knew that choosing this attitude was a blessing to all. But I was still frustrated.
I almost gave up too easily
Like many of the writers of the psalms, I freely expressed my frustration at God. “Really? It’s been hot, sunny, and calm most of the summer, and we get rotten weather! Again. Why?”
At that moment, I remembered earlier in the trip watching the collaborative effort of our kids, and our friends’ kids. Together, they heroically wrestled the wind to canoe to the center of the little cove to get clear drinking water for the group. With that image God helped me answer my own question, “Because I’m raising overcomers!”
Was that God speaking to me? You never quite know, but I answered meekly, “Oh… good plan. Really good plan.” I shared this insight with the whole group later around the campfire, sipping hot coffee from the water they’d fetched. It was a holy moment as the kids seemed to embrace God’s good purposes to go through hard things for the benefit of others, and building endurance “muscles” in the process.
Angela Duckworth in her book, Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance, explains that people motivated by altruism score higher on grit scales, than those motivated by personal pleasure.
So why a camping story? Because it is a graphic illustration of an important principle: Only in adversity with a purpose can our children learn to be resilient “overcomers.”
Give your kids a better “why” for giving their effort
When people give gritty and resilient effort to something, they might do it because they want the self-satisfaction of completing it. This is a good thing, but very few people come by this naturally. Of course, we want our kids to be a blessing to others, but we also want them to learn to complete a task because it feels good to finish a job well done. Of course, if this becomes the primary motivator we can start to see our kids develop an inflated view of themselves.
If they don’t really value the task, they might do it just to impress someone or get them off their back. If this is the goal, the “perseverance” may not be all that helpful if it leads to people-pleasing insecurity. For example high-achieving kids often exhibit great diligence in their studies but are more susceptible to anxiety and depression.
What the Bible says about diligence and perseverance
What if we, as parents, follow the example that Christ set for us? We can point our kids to an even better reason for diligence and perseverance by teaching them: You are called to be a blessing to others and to be the hands and feet of Jesus here on earth.
The Apostle Paul is the epitome of a biblical character that suffered and persevered, and he speaks strongly of the value of suffering, “…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Most of us would probably state that we desire to raise resilient, gritty, faith-filled kids that can overcome difficulty and challenges. At the end of the day, when we help kids learn the value of participating in God’s kingdom work, we give them a deeper gift of resilience than the world gives. We give them the gift of learning, like the Apostle Paul, to “go through various trials,” “run the race to get the prize,” and “do all things through Christ who gives them strength!” That’s why we persist.
Teaching resilience to our kids is a high calling as a parent. There are many thoughtful ways we can grow the values and skills that equip kids to be overcomers. Kids who live a life of faith-filled perseverance.
But it all starts with us, as the parents, modeling resilience as we overcome our own personal challenges. As we model this for our kids, they will begin to see adversity as an opportunity for them to learn resilience themselves.
Two ingredients of overcoming: Resilience and grit
If you don’t want your child to give up as soon as the going gets tough, they’re going to need two important characteristics: resilience and grit.
What are resilience and grit?
- Merriam-Webster defines resilience as, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”
- Grit is, “firmness of mind or spirit : unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.”
In short: Recovery, adjustment, and unyielding courage.
This reminds me an awful lot of what we’ve all needed during the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Why your kids need resilience and grit
Why does resilience matter?
1. Because bad things happen.
Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble.”
Right now maybe it’s just mastering long division or riding a bicycle. Maybe it’s finishing their homework, or internalizing their spelling list. These challenges don’t feel like life-altering skills or major trials, do they? However, learning to persist is a life-altering skill for the major trials that inevitably will come.
2. Because life won’t always be easy.
In fact, the kids that seem to master it all so easily—who excel at school and never need to study, who master that backflip on the trampoline in just a couple tries—these are the kids that may need your assistance the most in learning resilience. Life isn’t forcing resilience on them.
Consider what happens when resilience and perseverance are not learned,
For the child that hasn’t learned to persist, what happens when maintaining a friendship or marriage is hard work? Relationships won’t always be easy or natural, even if getting an A in mathematics was.
For the adult who never learned to cope with adversity while they were a child, what happens when life itself feels overwhelming? Every person will face a stretch when the choice to get up and keep moving is an act of overcoming. Whether from grief, trauma, mental illness, job stress, or other circumstances, life won’t always be easy.
Educational expert Dr. Dan Peters sums it up well, “As we all know, it is not the smartest who are most successful in our world, it is those who persevere, adapt, problemsolve, and don’t give up.” [sic]
What the research says about teaching resilience
First off, connecting with your child is paramount (which is what we’re all about!) More than anything you do to explicitly teach resilience, research suggests the strength of your relationship to your child has a major impact on your child’s resilience during adolescence.
In fact, even if you have conflict with your child during adolescence, the close relationship you built with your child earlier in life will supersede any conflict you have. Your child’s resilience will be built on that established close relationship rather than the conflict you are currently experiencing.
Doesn’t that make you feel better?
Secondly, it also appears that the impact of the parent-child relationship on resilience gets mediated by self-esteem. In fact, among homeless youth in New York City and Toronto, self-esteem emerged as a “key protective factor” against the stresses of homelessness.
To that end again, wise parents will want to think through the messages their parenting, and especially their discipline, sends to their children. “I am loved” offers a more resilient message than, “I am a nuisance.” Healthy self-messages make up a healthy self-esteem.
Moreover, research also suggests that the happy medium for developing a healthy self-esteem occurs when mothers (sorry, no research on fathers) are nurturing (thus promoting the message: “You are loved.”) without becoming overprotective (thus promoting the message: “You are called and capable.”)
(If you read material from Connected Families very often, a lot of this will sound familiar.)
The major factors that influence a child’s resilience
One review on existing research summarized the major factors that impact children’s resilience during life transitions. The found the following: “supportive families, positive peer relationships, external networks, and the opportunity to develop self-esteem and efficacy through valued social roles.”
Volunteering (serving others in a “valued social role”) also appears to be a great way of building kids’ resilience. Many researchers have demonstrated that people’s community involvement and service to others seem to relate to their resilience and gratitude levels. For example, this study demonstrated the number of hours a student volunteers correlated with their self-perceived resilience.
A word of caution here: In today’s competitive world, volunteering can be a shiny form of people-pleasing where kids pad their college resume. As Christian parents, we can help kids value their God-given purpose of serving in love.
If we were to sum up the research, healthy, resilient kids are kids with close relationships, high positive expectations, and a sense of purpose.
Resting in Truth in the face of adversity
A lot of conversation on resilience and grit focuses on not giving up, persistence, and accomplishing things. The CEO who drove her company to the top through a relentless pursuit of success (despite a thousand setbacks) is lauded as the epitome of resilience and grit.
But that’s a narrow understanding. Consider our definitions above. Resilience isn’t necessarily the relentless pursuit of some goal. Instead it’s more of “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”
Like a breakup. Getting cut from a sports team. Not being accepted by the college of your choice or not getting the job you wanted. A global pandemic.
It’s the ability to keep living a good life, despite hardships.
The top exec is not our ultimate example of resilience and grit. Even the Apostle Paul isn’t our ultimate example. Jesus is.
And thankfully, when we put resilience into the perspective of Jesus’ life, it’s not about accomplishing things or outward success. It’s more often about resting in the Truth, and carrying on.
Jesus as an example of resilience to your child who gives up easily
Consider Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4. He faced adversity that many of us could never imagine.
Hungry. Thirsty. Tired. Face-to-face with the very embodiment of evil.
And he persisted, but his persistence didn’t come in the form of action. In fact, Satan wanted Jesus to survive via action—action devoid of the will of his Father.
But Jesus leaned into Truth. When he could have moved mountains and turned stones into the bread he hungered for, Jesus simply spoke the Truth and kept on.
As followers of Jesus, it will never be our responsibility to single-handedly save any situation or overcome any tragedy. Instead, we lean into Christ.
Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.”
That’s it. Our deepest resilience lies in an unruffled confidence in that Truth.
So consider how you model this and talk about it with your kids. Letting our children watch us lean into the comforting, encouraging, empowering presence of Jesus when things are difficult points them toward the Source of a lifetime of resilience.
We’ve laid out why resilience is important to your kids; now what?
If you’re getting to the end of this article and feeling nervous that all we’ve gone over is why, don’t panic. If you know your child gives up too easily, don’t despair. We’re not going to leave you hanging.
First off, this is hard stuff. Internalizing the why behind embracing adversity is the first step, and we’ve given you a bunch of reasons for this new mindset, primarily:
- Life won’t be easy, but Jesus gave us an example of perseverance.
- Resilient adults have the skills and abilities to recover from setbacks and navigate changes.
- Giving up too easily leads to the loss of things your child values: relationships, opportunities, and the chance to serve others.
We’ve also given you a few other things to think about, as you navigate how you help your child who gives up easily and allow them to learn resilience:
- Kids must experience challenges, without us fixing them.
- You can give your child the best reason for good effort: “Jesus calls you to be a blessing to others!”
- Research suggests a close, connected, relationship between you and your child, as well as their core identity messages, are paramount.
We invite you to keep these principles in mind if you feel your child gives up easily. We’re not done talking about raising resilient overcomers! Keep an eye out for both the upcoming podcast and the next article in this series. Both are full of practical ideas to teach resilience to your child who gives up too easily.
To learn more, register for our online course The Entitlement Fix: Growing Hard Work and Gratitude In Your Kids!
This fast-paced 4-session course is designed to give parents a solid strategy for stamping out entitled attitudes, and moving toward greater meaning in life.