Top tips to teach tenacity 

June 19, 2020

By Katie Brody, Director of Studies K-6
Emanuel School, Randwick 

People who show determination, perseverance and try their best tend to get ahead in life. By fostering tenacity from a young age, we equip the next generation with the skills needed to thrive, no matter what kind of world they will live in. A Year One child using a checklist at home each morning to tend to simple chores, get dressed and organise themselves, is being tenacious. A Year Two child searching for something they can’t find without crumbling emotionally, is being tenacious. A Year Three or Four child approaching the teacher to seek clarification with a challenge they are halfway into solving, is being tenacious. In older students, having a calendar on their bedroom wall with assignment due dates to guide themselves towards completion of tasks or revision, is being tenacious. According to key research, there are three facets to the development of this disposition:


Academic view of self

This relates to the ways in which students see themselves as learners. If children are encouraged to have the view that their ability and achievement can grow with effort, compelling evidence suggests they will behave in a way that is likely to result in progress and eventually, achievement, in the face of an academic challenge.


Effortful control

There are many tasks that young people face that assist in their long-term development, like learning their times tables, building understanding and applying spelling rules or practising touch typing. Often, these tasks aren’t motivating or enjoyable. Tenacious children will cultivate these skills, mustering the willingness to persist, despite the inconvenience.


Use of strategies and tactics

When children and young people possess a tool bag of strategies and tactics to handle setbacks or to help themselves with challenging tasks or circumstances, they tend to develop the confidence needed to take responsibility for situations they can manage. Research suggests that teaching children to define the task, plan the steps needed and recognise that the course of action may need altering when setbacks occur, equips them to be tenacious when setting and reaching their goals.


How do we foster tenacity?

Encourage curiosity

All children go through the ‘why’ phase and this is the time to harness that natural tendency to find out why, when, who and how. As they get older, children still bring questions to us and expect that we have the answers. This is the time to bring out the key question that model tenacious action as the first tool in their toolbox – ‘How can we find out?’ Modelling that there are many places from which one can ‘find out’, will be key to helping children realise that natural curiosity can be satiated independently using a wide range of credible sources and that parents and teachers don’t need to be the default source of all knowledge.


Don’t rescue, reframe

Whether the answers they seek are about a problem they are having with a friend, a mathematical concept or a lost sock, resisting the urge to save the child can be the next key to fostering tenacity. This does not mean dismissing their issue or concern but reframing it to help them to see how to find solutions instead. Asking them, “What have you already tried?” sets an expectation that they should have already acted independently. Similarly, “Write me a list of possible next steps and then we can talk through them together” insinuates that you are there for assistance once they have started the thinking process. Literature suggests these statements are helpful too; “What is one thing you could try that you have not tried yet?” or “How might _______ (friend, teacher, grandparent) handle that?” or “If you had a magic wand, what would you do to change the situation?” or  “What information or skills don’t you have yet, that could help you in this case?”


Honour tenacity

When a child shows that elusive, “I will figure it out for myself” attitude and action, that is the time to jump in and praise them, specifically naming that behaviour as being tenacious. Feeling that they can successfully work on a challenge independently, creates the confidence to do the same when next faced with feelings of struggle. Honouring tenacity sounds like parents, grandparents and teachers praising the effort that it takes to accomplish something or just to make progress. It would sound like, “Good for you! That must have taken you a long time to develop that skill” or “I watched you struggle with that and now look how well you can do it” or “Your attention to detail with that has brought such success. I am proud of how you persisted”.


Look for cues and clues

Children that are tenacious problem solvers have been taught to observe for very specific cues and clues. When we are assisting children and young people to be more tenacious we should encourage them to go back to check the finer details of instructions, take stock of what they already know or decide what they need to know to make progress. Asking them, “What do you already know?” or “What are the finer details here?” or  “What seems to be missing” or “Where might you find more suggestions / ideas?” models the ‘taking stock of what you know’ and this is an important part of being tenacious. It spurs on the next steps for effective and independent action.



How to Foster Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance: An Educator’s Guide

Tenacious Kids – How Best To Raise Them

On the Value of Tenacity

“I Figured It Out!”: Helping Kids Become Tenacious Problem Solvers


* This is a shortened version of an article which appeared in our Ma Nishma newsletter.

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