March 8, 2011

Discerning When to Persevere

My daughter Rachel quit gymnastics last week.
She’s very body-smart so she was good at it and especially enjoyed the tumbling moves. But I had no qualms about her decision.

For one thing, she’s quite physically active in other ways, including weekly ice skating sessions and intense participation in the foundational level of a local swim team. So hanging up her leotard will not jeopardize her physical health.
In addition, though she’s extremely body-smart, gymnastics has been an enrichment activity ­– fun while it lasted – and a “tool” ­– one way to keep her active – but is not imperative for her long-term well being. There will be other ways for her to utilize her kinesthetic strengths.

On the other hand, spelling can be hard for her. But I would not allow her to shelf her spelling lessons even if she asked. Spelling obviously doesn’t come naturally to everyone and there are ways – such as computer spell-check programs – to help someone compensate for such a weakness. But it seems just as obvious to me that giving her many useful strategies now – using a particular research-based program that involves real learning, not mere memorization – is important in the long run. So, even when she’s frustrated, we press on.

Perseverance is an essential character trait and a critical life skill. But we needn’t persevere indefinitely at each and every activity we undertake. Instead, I believe we should make sure we’re always persevering at something – because, like a muscle, we must regularly use it to keep it limber and strong. But we can pick and choose our battles, so to speak.

Knowing where to persevere takes discernment, and our children need our help with that. Rachel might not yet see the value of working to master spelling, but I know how it will help her as an adult and can communicate that as I encourage her when she struggles. On the other hand, though we know the value of developing her body-smart strengths and helping her remain physically fit throughout her life, gymnastics itself was merely a means to those ends and is not irreplaceable.

In order to be discerning, you must know your child well and have a vision for her future – based on God’s (not the world’s) expectations for her, her need for core life skills, and your best understanding of her particular propensities (i.e., how she’s been “wired” as a uniquely designed individual). Use your knowledge to encourage and require perseverance in something at all times – and to prevent burnout that would come from requiring it in absolutely everything.


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