Understanding Temperament: Persistence

Temperament Matters

Do you have children who have a hard time accepting “no” for an answer? When they get an idea in their head, are they determined to carry it through?

Or, do you have children who give up easily? Do they move from activity to activity because they get bored or frustrated?

The degree to which your child “sticks with it” is an innate part of their temperament. An individual’s temperament consists of ten traits. A person’s temperament is what makes each child unique in how they respond to the world around them. Understanding your children’s temperament can help you to parent them more effectively.


What is Persistence?

Persistence refers to how long a child will keep at a task.

  • Some children are highly persistent and get locked-in on certain tasks or activities. They find it hard to give up or move on until they have accomplished their goal. Highly persistent children stick with things even when they get frustrated or the task becomes too difficult. As a result, they can be unending with their requests and demands, often leading to power struggles with parents.

  • Other children have low persistence. These children seem to have trouble sticking with a task or activity. They also tend to get frustrated and give up easily, especially when bored.


How can you determine your children’s degree of persistence?

Use the following questions to help you identify your children’s degree of persistence. Track your answers on the following scale from one to five:

  • Do your children have a hard time stopping activities, especially those they are not finished with?

  • Do your children plead and beg you to do things “their way”?

  • Once they start homework and chores, do they persist until they are complete?

  • Do your children stick with things, like puzzles or homework, to the end even after the task becomes boring or difficult?

  • Do your children become engrossed in toys and games?

  • Do your children work hard to master sports or musical instrument skills?


No                                                                                                  Yes

1                      2                          3                         4                        5

 Stops easily                                                                  Gets locked in

Low Persistence                                                          High Persistence


Highly Persistent Children

If the majority of your responses fall to the right side of the scale, then you have children who are highly persistent.

This means that your children are determined to do things their way and on their schedules. They lock into ideas, behaviors and activities. They have a difficult time leaving something, especially something they enjoy, when you ask them to stop.

Persistent children:

    a door with a lock

  • tend to be unwavering in their requests, often resorting to pleading and begging and ending in tantrums.

  • When they decide they want to do something, they usually mean “now” and will not take “no” for an answer.

  • can wear parents down with their strength of will.

  • tend to be goal-oriented and stick with a task until they complete it.

  • listen closely to your instructions.

  • are high achievers, who often become strong leaders as they follow their passions.


Less Persistent Children

If, on the other hand, most of your responses to the questions above fall toward the left side of the scale, then you have children who are less persistent.

These children typically stop what they are doing when you ask them and it is easy to redirect them to other activities. They do not get locked-in on ideas and are usually open to other suggestions.

Less persistent children:

unlocked door

  • tend to give up quickly once they start something.

  • may have a tough time finding the motivation to stick to a project or assignment.

  • do not tolerate frustration well.

  • need your help, time, and encouragement to finish with something they have started.


Things Parents Can Do

  • Know that persistence is a part of your children’s temperament.
    They are behaving this way on purpose or to drive you crazy.

  • Listen and understand what your persistent children need.

  • Learn ways to stay calm.
    This will help you not to engage in power struggles with your children.

  • For less persistent children, help them break tasks into smaller parts.
    This will allow them to reach goals more easily.

  • For more persistent children, allow more time to finish a task before moving on.
    This will help them as they will probably have a hard time stopping if they have not achieved their objective.

  • Distinguish “manipulative” behavior/temper tantrum from “temperamentally-driven”behavior/temper tantrum.

  • Teach your children strategies to calm themselves when they get upset.
    For example, help them learn to compromise and be more flexible.

  • Help your children to either let things go (high persistence) or stick with things longer (low persistence).

  • Do not engage in battles with your children when they are locked-in or frustrated.
    They need you to take charge and help them find ways to get calm.

  • Learn to work together.
    Understand how your own temperament, including your degree of persistence, fits or does not fit with your children’s temperament and create strategies to help each other.

  • Identify and value your children’s unique temperament.
    Help them to understand the value of their uniqueness.

  • Send messages to your children that help them to feel good about who they are, such as:

  • “You are independent and capable.”

    “You know what you want.”

    “You are very assertive about what you want. ”

    “It is hard to leave something in the middle.”

    “You really stick to things that interest you.”

    “You can find ways to accomplish your goals.”



For more information about temperament, check out the following books for preview and/or purchase. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help families do the best job they can to raise their children.

Raising Your Spirited Child by Kurcinka The Difficult Child Understanding Temperament by Schick The Challenging Child by Greenspan
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