Today I offered my four-year old some flash-cards we had made together of the letters: M, N, O, P, Q and R. (Having done A-F, G-L on the two days before).

We'd draw the letter, think of something for that letter, draw it, and then cut out the flashcard. For the previous two sets of letters, working through the flashcards in random order to identify letters had been a fun challenge.

But today he threw up his hands and said "No! I can't do it! You have to do them in order like the ABC song!"

This left me feeling perplexed. I wanted to make my child feel like he can take on the world, and enjoy a challenge, but this one was too much.

My question is: How do I help my four-year old feel like they can do a challenge?

  • 4
    Are you sure it was "I'm not able to do this" rather than "Doing it out of order is the wrong way to do this"? When our son was learning the ABCs (and his numbers) there were a few times he got frustrated when we'd go randomly, and it turns out he just thought they always had to go in order because that's what his experience had been. Once we explained it and did it a few times, he was fine with it.
    – Drew
    May 19, 2016 at 14:41

3 Answers 3


I agree with Drew, that the odds are very good that he's complaining about your order not because it's hard but out of a sense of following the 'rules'. My four year old might well have had a similar complaint when he was at this stage of learning.

Answering the question as asked, though, the main thing is simply to reward effort, not success. Rewarding effort teaches them to try. Rewarding success teaches them to only try things they will succeed at - so it discourages trying at hard things.

Of course, it's hard not to cheer successes, and if that's the case, it's important to set the definition of success at an appropriate level so that you're really cheering the effort. You want the goal to be attainable, and then cheer attaining that goal, and then continue to the next further out goal.

What you end up doing when you break it up like that is teaching him strategies for overcoming a hard task. Just like an adult would, right? You have a hard task, you break it up into smaller pieces and tackle each one separately, one at a time.


Two strategies for teaching grit and perseverance 1. Demonstrate it - this happens naturally, but I make it a point to explain in age appropriate terms how I am working towards my goals. 2. Look for and encourage grit in your child. When they put in extra effort, even if it does not lead to success let your child know you are proud.


You will have to persevere yourself to teach perseverance:

1) Slowly introduce an activity which is fun but which they are not good at.

2) Repeat the activity frequently, increasing the complexity, and making it more and more fun.

3) Express how much better they are getting at it, just from having practiced before.

4) Be patient and persevere until they realize that practice makes perfect.

( Having lived through the experience of improving slowly at something is one of the basic ingredients for actually behaving with perseverance late run life.... )

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