Parent Rap: 5 ways to build a child’s grit

Crunch time is here for students. Expectations peak between now and the end of the year. February and beyond are months filled with more homework, more studying, more tests and more stress. How can children and teens deal with all of it? Grit, says University of Pennsylvania psychologist and MacArthur Fellow Angela Duckworth. Grit is defined as a distinct combination of passion, resilience, determination and focus, which allows a person to maintain the discipline and optimism to persevere in their goals even in the face of discomfort, rejection and lacking visible progress for years, or even decades.

Duckworth’s research has demonstrated that smarts and talent alone do not make for the success of spelling bee finalists, West Point cadets, salespeople and teachers, but smarts combined with grit does. Her research demonstrates that being smart and coming from a loving and stable home are not enough to earn success in the absence of hard work and determination. Successful students during these upcoming pressure-filled months will be the ones with the grit.

Here are five ways that parents can promote grit in their own children:

1. Instill passion. One of the characteristics of “gritty” people is passion. It takes passion to be especially motivated to achieve a goal. Goals once obtained allow a person a sense of meaning and purpose. Persistence obtained through pursuit of a passionate goal can lead to the development of grit. Once developed, grit can be applied to other less-passionate situations, setting a child up to do what it takes to be successful in many arenas of life.

2. Risk-taking. Stretching oneself is essential for growth. Encourage kids to go for it, even if they feel it’s beyond their means. What’s the worst that can happen? They fail trying; that beats standing by watching someone else try.

3. Embrace failure. Parents can model what it’s like to fail, persist and eventually succeed. By talking about their experiences regularly and allowing children to fail, parents can demonstrate how their own setbacks can lead to success. Parents need to teach children to not give up, because ultimately giving up at something means giving up on oneself. Kids need to learn that it’s OK to keep going even when they feel extremely challenged and even if they fail.

4. Breathe through the frustration. Things take effort because they are worthwhile. Grit teaches us that hard work is part of achievement. Teach children that it’s OK to feel impatient and frustration, but it’s not OK to allow those feelings to make them stop trying. Pushing through the hard times is what grit is all about.

5. Be open minded. My son’s current passion is bottle flipping. The process of mastering the ideal flip is the same as any difficult goal. It takes determination, perseverance, willpower and grit, and sometimes five hours of practice. I’m looking forward to when he uses his grit to achieve more mature and meaningful pursuits. I know that when he’s ready to do that, he has all the grit required to be hugely successful. As annoying as flipping bottles is, it’s teaching him grit.

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