Grit is a parenting buzzword you may have already come across of late. It is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” by psychologist Angela Duckworth and colleagues, who extensively studied grit as a personality trait. Based on their research, they concluded that grit is a better predictor of success than IQ or talent. You can say it’s a distinct combination of resilience, determination, discipline, tenacity, and focus. It sounds massively important, doesn’t it? How can we help develop this in our children? Here are five ways we can begin.
Grit involves doing something you’re passionate about. Be it sports, advanced math, or learning a new language, if your children resist an activity you signed them up for, you risk making control the issue. You would be accused of not “getting who they are”, of just imposing something you would’ve wanted for yourself instead of letting them choose. As hard as it is to hear, your children are NOT an extension of you. The idea is to teach kids to commit to something they like, and to work hard for it. If the choice of activity came from them, they would be more motivated and disciplined to see it through. This will allow them to gauge and cultivate what they are passionate about.
Resist the urge to “swoop in and save” your child at the first sign of discomfort. After they commit to what they want to do, they will soon realize that dealing with a skill or any worthwhile activity takes practice. Learning isn’t always fun. It could be a lot more difficult than they initially anticipated. Allow them to experience that difficulty, frustration, or sadness. As parents, we hate seeing our kids struggle, but not letting them do so would be a great disservice. How else will they develop resilience? Give them time. They will figure it out. Empathize, but remind them that struggling is part of the process. Kind of like learning how to ride a bike–fall seven times, stand up eight. Then it won’t be much of a struggle after that.
Show your children real examples of how setbacks can lead to success. Do a little research on people they admire, but nothing really beats you, their parent, sharing your own experiences with failure. Allow them to fail. As with the second tip, it is imperative that we don’t let our protective instincts rob our kids of experiencing a hard-won victory for themselves. Failure is painful, but it is not permanent. Promise them of the fact that there will never be a moment where the earth will crash and burn before them if they don’t do well enough. They can try again and again, and each time, with new and helpful information. Call every setback a learning opportunity.
We want to instill a growth mindset in our children, not a fixed one. It’s easy to fall into the trap of labeling our children as “smart” because of the hyper competitive, grade-driven culture they’re exposed to at school. But research shows that kids who are praised for being smart fixate on performance, and would be less likely to take risks for fear of failure. On the other hand, kids who are praised for their efforts try harder and persist much longer. The key to instilling a growth mindset is teaching kids that their brains are like muscles that can be strengthened. This does not mean we just say “at least you tried” when they fail, a better approach would be to point out how doing something difficult grows their brain and every effort they put in is exercise.
Learn a new skill. Train for a new sport. Take on a new challenge yourself and talk about it with your children. When you get discouraged or even fail, let them know, then share how you get up and try again. When you accomplish your goal, celebrate your success together. Demonstrate that working hard to achieve something is worth it. Seeing grit first-hand on the person they crave approval from the most is as powerful a lesson as it can get.