The No. 1 soft skill that predicts kids’ success more than IQ—and how to teach it

Through my research as a child psychologist, I have found that persistence is the #1 soft skill that separates children who are highly motivated from those who give up easily. In fact, studies have shown that it is a more powerful indicator of success than IQ.

Children with perseverance don’t give up in the face of setbacks. They believe their efforts will pay off, so despite any obstacles, they stay motivated to work hard and finish what they started.

Here are nine ways parents can help kids build endurance:

1. Fight the factors that discourage children.

2. Teach that mistakes are opportunities for growth.

Remind your children that mistakes can be a positive, even if a situation doesn’t turn out the way they expected. Accept their mistakes and tell them, “It’s okay to make mistakes. What matters is that you tried.”

Admit your own missteps, too. This helps them to see that everyone makes mistakes and that success comes when you don’t let setbacks define you.

3. “Chunk” tasks.

Teaching your kids to break big tasks down into smaller, more manageable parts will make them feel more confident about getting things done over time.

For example, if they are frustrated by a math worksheet, have them take a separate sheet of paper and cover all the math problems except for the top row. Then lower the paper further down into the next row as you finish each one.

Or, if they feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of homework, they can write each task on a piece of paper, stack them by difficulty, and complete one task at a time.

4. Celebrate small victories.

Repeated failure can destroy stamina, but the smallest of successes can encourage a child to keep going, so help them recognize their small victories.

For example: “You got six words right last time. Today you have eight! That’s a win. You get better with your hard work!”

5. Expand your focus.

When your child wants to set a task, put a timer on their desk and set it for an appropriate length of time tailored to their attention span.

Explain that they just have to stay tuned in until the bell rings. Then they can take a short break and reset the timer.

Encourage them to see how many problems they can solve before the bell rings so they can see they are succeeding. Focusing becomes easier over time.

6. Fix “stumbles”.

When children give up, it can be because they can no longer find their way out of a challenge. Start by acknowledging your frustration and saying it’s a normal feeling. Try doing a breathing exercise or taking a break.

Then, when they return to the task, see if you can help them identify a small stumbling block that gets in their way.

For example: “It looks like you are confusing the addition and multiplication symbols.” Once the problem is clear, practice focusing on the stumbler until he slowly overcomes it.

7. Praise the effort.

8. Come up with “stick-to-it” statements.

9. Step back and let them find out.

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