You Don't Have to be a Tiger Mom to
Teach Your Child Perseverance

Gloria De Gaetano

by Gloria DeGaetano,
Founder and CEO of the Parent Coaching Institute

Her methods aside, most parents I know would agree with Amy Chua (author of The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) when she says "the best way to protect…children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away." (1) All of that, especially the part about "no one can ever take away," was an important piece in my parenting. I wanted my sons to understand at a deep level within themselves, that their core identity was intact always—no matter if they failed or succeeded—and that they alone held the decision-making process to further their development, or not. I was their co-pilot.

Because of my profession, I had the advantage of knowing the best parental practices that worked…at least on paper. Knowing and doing are two entirely different birds. Even though I failed many times, as we all do when trying hard to get it right for our kids, it helped me to have a handle on those critically-important-things-for-parents-to-do-that-give-the-best-chances-for-the-most-positive-outcomes. I have summed many up in the Parent Coach Certification® Training Program so that family support professionals would have this information to help parents. I have identified the top five in my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age. And over the span of three decades I have helped thousands of parents to tease out what's most important during the non-stop distractions in rearing children.

So what would be the critically-important-thing-for-parents-to-do-that-give-the-best-chances-for-the-most-positive-outcomes for children to grow into adults "armed with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away?"

Teach them how to persevere when faced with a difficulty—all kinds of difficulties. Cognitive difficulties such as a math problem they're grappling to solve, emotional difficulties such as adjusting to a new school, or just your average, daily difficulty such as struggling with putting on socks. Children need to stay in the messy, uncomfortable place long enough for the answer, the new feeling of peace, or the sock to fall into place. Practice does make perfect and so often, the temptation of quick success overrides the determination needed to stay in the trying phase and keep trying until the desired outcome is realized. In our instant everything world, this is often tricky for children and teens to learn and difficult for parents to teach.

However, there is one way to get started that I know helps moms and dads create the space necessary to teach their children perseverance: Reduce or totally limit passive TV time and any nonsensical video game, gadget, or Internet time.

Children can stay with frustrating experiences for longer periods if they spend less time with mindless use of screen machines. It will be so much easier to encourage your child "to take more time working on the math problem," if he isn't in the habit of living in a virtual world. School success depends upon the child's inner core being able to companion a frustrating process to an acceptable solution. And, of course, when able to stay a difficult course, a child's self-respect grows. What a grin from ear to ear and what a feeling of satisfaction children experience when they have been to the edge and so wanted to give up—but didn't. That's true for all of us, isn't it?

I recently interviewed a successful personal trainer on the subject of motivation. What makes some people able to push through to get to the next level of fitness? Why do others give up? In his years of work, he has observed that the "push-throughers" are able to experiment with new techniques, exercises, etc., without freaking out if they fail. They have an attitude of yes, it's going to hurt, it's going to be uncomfortable, it's going to take more from me than I think I can give, and, yes, I will do it imperfectly until I get it. Going to these places is part of the expected journey to fitness. Anticipating that it won't be easy these folks can "push themselves." And what's more, they know this process never ends—as they improve with certain exercises and movements, a good trainer presents the next level of difficulty. This is expected because they know their own line between overworking and underachieving. In essence, achievers determine their own frustrating process that works to nudge them—just enough—without collapsing. Although the trainer presents the exercise program, achievers are internally driven to practice what works for them to move forward. And they do.

For successful people, normal means moving through a frustrating, uncomfortable process, achieving the goal, and starting over again with a new goal. Now if only all parents could bottle what attunes high achievers to accomplish this! I believe it is a combination of self-knowledge that once in a challenging situation it takes time and effort to overcome it, along with the acceptance of frustration as a normal part of the process. Achievers learn quickly it's OK to feel uncertain and be uncomfortable, expecting negative feelings to be replaced with positive ones when success is reached. They stay with the difficult process long enough to feel success. By doing so they reinforce their will and determination. They feel stronger because they have become stronger. They feel more successful because they have succeeded. It's true: success breeds success. Once a child tastes success that originated from his/her own sweat equity there's no stopping them. Taking on challenges becomes a natural part of living.

The actual participation in difficulties perfects the self-reinforcing success process. We can use screen machines to provide such practice. For instance, when a teen writes her own poetry on her iPad, she is using generative cognitive skills and must think, ponder, decide, cancel out, and stay with the process of making her message in the form she wants. She must monitor herself in the creative act and make on-going choices—often difficult choices—to say what she means to say. She perseveres to her intended outcome and feels the thrill of creative accomplishment. Playing video or computer games, as well, reinforces feelings of satisfaction and success. We have to be sure that the game is non-violent otherwise negative, anti-human messages are reinforced and the child or teen feels and becomes successful mimicking anti-social, even evil behaviors.

Usually the mundane uses of digital gadgets don't do much to teach our kids to persevere to an outcome. Chatting with friends, texting, and playing inane computer games won't allow a growing brain the types of opportunities necessary to learn how to stay in a frustrating process. And passive TV viewing? Forget it. Such viewing time can be considered "prolonged idleness of the prefrontal cortex." (2) We want the child's cortex to be alive with mental processing as much as possible when with a screen machine. Take a look at the 100 Family Media Literacy Activities I have compiled to help parents engage children and teens in talking and writing processes. Cognitive involvement with media messages means the child will be thinking, analyzing, and discerning—practicing important mental tools for persevering when faced with a challenge.

It may seem too easy. But reducing mindless screen time and increasing intellectual engagement via screen machines are the differences that can make all the difference. Try them. See for yourself how your child's abilities to persevere grow while you both enjoy accomplishment after accomplishment.


  1. Amy Chua, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," The Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2011.
  2. Fred Emery, University of Alabama, quoted in Endangered Minds, Jane Healy, Simon and Schuster, 2005, p. 203.

Copyright © 2011 Gloria DeGaetano, all rights reserved.

Gloria DeGaetano is the founder and CEO of The Parent Coaching Institute, the originator of the parent coaching profession and a speaker and author on issues related to parenting well in a media/digital age.