Teaching Perseverance: Let Kids Overcome Their Own Obstacles
When I was growing up my family was poor—really poor. There were definitely those worse off, but looking back, we really struggled. We lived off food stamps and dumpster diving behind the local grocery store. One year, we celebrated Christmas late because Dad needed to construct a tree from the best curbside branches he could find the week after the holiday.
That same holiday season, my parents waited until a neighbor dumped their kid’s rocking horse when Santa brought him a new one. They sanded it down, threw on a new coat of paint and gave it to me. Money was a hard-to-come-by commodity.
By the time I was in grade school, I had become creative in obtaining money. No, I didn’t do anything underhanded or illegal. Necessity is the mother of invention, and, in my case, it was the mother of my entrepreneurship.
I used to go to the local flea market on Sundays. On one such visit, I noticed a woman selling a popular toy, the Chinese Yo-Yo, ten for a dollar. I thought I could risk a buck, and I bought ten. By the end of the week, I sold all ten…each for a dollar. When I returned to the flea market the next Sunday, I reinvested my ten dollars and bought a hundred more. This kept up until one Sunday I could no longer find my Chinese Yo-Yo wholesaler.
In middle school I tried my hand at the candy business—I bought a pack of gum from the local grocery store for twenty-five cents and offered it to my classmates at a 100% mark-up: fifty cents. Most told me I was crazy, that they could get it half that price after school. I reminded them it wasn’t after school yet, and they could have it now at my price. With the supply (no other gum on campus) and the demand (the sweet tooth of a typical junior high school student), I sold my first pack, bought two more and sold them the following day. This continued for about two weeks, varying between gum and candy and creating a very lucrative business. Until I was called into the principal’s office.
“Are you selling candy at school?” he asked.
“Yes,” I responded. “That’s not against the rules, is it?” I had done my research and already knew the answer prior to becoming “The Candy Man” (really, the kids called me this).
“Starting today it is,” he told me.
And there went my business. But, that just put me in a position where I was able to discover another way to generate income, which lead to the next opportunity.
Being in a difficult financial situation taught me perseverance and resilience early on. I am an elementary school teacher, and every day I see our children are being handed far too much. Second graders are getting the iPhone 6 for their seventh birthdays.
Kids also procrastinate and wait until the last moment to work on their Mission Projects. As a result, Dad runs out to the store, buys everything his daughter needs the night before the project is due, and he stays up long after the late night talk shows making his daughter’s school project.
How can our kids persevere when Mom and Dad clear all of life’s obstacles? How can kids push through and be creative and innovative when they are handed everything they desire?
I have seen parents who are struggling financially put themselves deeper in debt in order to clear a path for their children. This isn’t just bad news for parents and their finances—kids never get the opportunity to problem-solve, to figure things out, to come up with ideas, to engage their brains and feel empowered once they have moved themselves ahead.
When our 16-year old, Riley was in kindergarten, she wanted to have one of her drawings appear in the annual kid-created calendar that all students in the district received each January. She didn’t get in, but she tried again in first grade and again in second. Riley entered this contest for five years (over half her life) before she received the “Congratulations, your picture has been chosen for the upcoming school calendar” letter in fourth grade…Perseverance.
After writing my first book, I sent it out to agents and publishers. I received three hundred rejection letters! But, it was precisely what I needed in order to persevere and push forward. Here I am today, four books and scores of articles later.
The obstacles in my life taught me perseverance and brought me to where I am today. I can’t wait to see where Riley will end up because of her calendar contest and the character-building opportunities in her life.
What about your child? Are you allowing them to practice perseverance today, so they can be successful tomorrow?