Teaching Your Kids To Finish Well

Teaching Your Kids To Finish Well

Some core family values you know you’ll teach from the start.

Values like:

  • Always say “thank you”.
  • The last one inside closes the garage door
  • If you have leftover fries, give them to Dad.

Other values sneak up on you, and you realize halfway through teaching them, that it’s an important family trait.

In our family, one of those realized values is what we call “finishing well”.

As the school year wraps up within the next couple of weeks, there are plenty of ways we work on modeling and teaching this lifelong skill to our kids.

There are four basic components to finishing well at our house.

  1. Following through to completion, despite adversity.
  2. Expressing gratitude.
  3. Showing appreciation.
  4. Celebrating a job well done.

What does each of those concepts look like in action?

Following through to completion, despite adversity

It’s normal and healthy, even, to reach a point in a commitment when you want to quit. When our kids played in a basketball league a couple of years ago, we had a great time going to the games–at least, the first several weeks. But by the time the last two weeks of the season rolled around, we all felt ready to be done.

When your normally easygoing kid pushes back on wanting to go to practice or a game, it’s tempting to want to give in and take a break. But because we’re committed to finishing well, we use it as a teaching opportunity.

Part of that starts with acknowledging and sympathizing with your child’s desire to quit. Instead of trying to convince your child something is fun and amazing, acknowledge that it doesn’t feel good right now to have to follow through on a commitment.

It can go something like this:

“I know it feels hard to go to basketball practice right now, especially when you’ve had a busy week. I remember feeling really tired at the end of a sports season when I was a kid. But you committed to being on this basketball team for the whole season. Your teammates are counting on you. Can you imagine how good it will feel to finish strong? I know you can do this  – you are persevering through something hard, and that’s a skill you’ll use your whole life.”   

Expressing Gratitude

This part of finishing well is simple but tremendously meaningful. In our family, that means taking time to specifically thank the people involved. It goes beyond saying a mere “thank you” and going the extra mile to brighten someone’s day and recognize their efforts.

When a class or activity is ending, we’ve worked on the skill of approaching the teacher or coach, looking them in the eye, and saying, “Thank you, Ms./Mr. __________.  I really enjoyed ___________.”  With our younger kids, we help them practice what they want to say to smooth out any nervousness.

We also do this after meals. When supper is over, whether cooked by me or someone else, we’ve held our kids accountable since they were preschoolers to say, “Thank you for dinner. I really liked the ____________.” I can’t count the number of times someone told me how meaningful it was when our kids did this one simple thing after a meal.

Showing appreciation

Over the years, our family has shown appreciation to people in our lives in various different ways –acts of service, gift cards, flowers, plants, or hand-drawn cards, depending on the situation.

I truly believe that the gift itself doesn’t matter so much as you and your child’s efforts to recognize someone else’s hard work and brighten their day. After a meal, it’s as simple as clearing your plate and offering to clear someone else’s.

By using our effort and resources to show appreciation, we model for our kids how we are grateful for what others do for us.

Celebrating a job well done

When it comes to celebrating, I think it’s easy to go one of two ways: spending too much time showing appreciation and gratitude to others without acknowledging your child’s hard work, or on the other hand, only focusing on your child, without thanking the people who helped them.

It’s important to do both. In our family, we intentionally focus on thanking others first and then take time to celebrate our kids’ hard work and achievements.

Celebration looks different for every family, but I believe that most of it doesn’t need to be expensive or extravagant. Choosing the meal, movie, or activity, calling a grandparent to brag, or verbal or written praise from us parents are meaningful to our kids for most things.

My husband and I try to focus on the character skills needed to finish well rather than the achievement itself when we praise our kids.

“We’re so proud of how hard you worked on that huge test. You really persevered through the hardest parts of studying. That’s a skill you’ll use your whole life. Great job!”

Teaching kids to finish well may come more naturally to some of us than others. But it’s a skill that we all need and can appreciate in return. Here’s to the finish line!

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