Teaching “Don’t give up”

by admin on March 18, 2013

My sweet William turned eight years old last Thursday. I adore him, largely because he’s such a unique kid.

He won’t eat meat. He thinks impossible objects are hilarious. He’s not rough-and-tumble and has been known to make a hundreds chart with Cheeze-Its. William has a My Neighbor Totoro doll he calls “Officer Joe,” a bottle cap collection and his own Minecraft server. He makes stop-motion movies.

He also gives up very easily and it kills me.

We have a basketball hoop at the end of the driveway. Two days after it was installed, he and I were shooting baskets. He misses, of course, as he’s new to the sport. He’s also got the upper body strength of a newborn, but that’s beside the point.

This is when he hangs his head, pouts and refuses to participate further. “I can’t do it,” he says. “I’m never going to do it.” I explain that no one is good at anything the first time they try it, but he won’t hear it. He has dug in his heels and that’s that.

Last year at Cub Scout camp, he enjoyed archery. So we got him a great, kid-sized compound bow and a target for Christmas. He struggles to pull the arrow all the way back, and hasn’t touched it in months. Again, more sulking, self-doubt and defeatist talk like “I’ll never be able to do it” and “I can’t do anything.”

I alternate between sympathy and anger born of utter frustration. On one hand, I want to say, “You can’t just sit on the sideline and sulk because something is hard! For goodness sake, buck up!” On the other hand, I wonder if the whole performance is just attention-seeking. Instead I just say, “Yeah, it’s hard. Well, let’s try again. Just give it one more try.”


“OK, I’ll be here if you decide to try.”

But I’m also thinking, “You’ll never develop those spindly bone arms or your even less sturdy confidence if you don’t try.”

The trick is finding something the wants to do, can be successful at and build the confidence to try other things and, more importantly, be OK when the results aren’t perfect. That’s one of the things I like about organized sports: you learn to lose gracefully, which comes in handy in life.

And I almost found that perfect activity.


One of the gifts he received for his birthday was the BB gun you see above. It’s awesome, and he really got in to BB shooting at Scout camp last year. His uncle gave it to him and he’s over the moon to try it. So I hang a tarp in the yard, go over gun safety, load it and go outside with him.

The gun doesn’t fire. I try again. No go. Check if it’s jammed, clean the barrel. Nope. We finally find something he’s willing to do and the damn gun doesn’t work. It’s beyond frustrating.

Oh, William. Parenting is the hardest job there is. You’re responsible for the health and well-being of a human being. Not just the pouting child before you, but the adult s/he will be. When you think about it, the responsibility is overwhelming. Sometimes you want to throw your hands up and say, “That’s it, I can’t do this. Obviously I’m a bad parent.”

But you don’t. You aren’t. Just give it one more try.