Every parent wants to raise a child who can tackle life’s challenges. One who doesn’t give up despite failures, mistakes or setbacks. This quality is known as grit.
Grit is a distinct combination of passion, resilience, determination, and focus that allows a person to maintain the discipline and optimism to persevere in their goals even in the face of discomfort, rejection, and a lack of visible progress for years, or even decades.
Based on research by psychologist Angela Duckworth, grit is crucial for reaching one’s full potential. Students with grit are more likely to have both academic and lifelong success. In fact, this quality was revealed to be more important than IQ in a study of middle school students’ performance.
While some children innately have more grit than others, there are many simple ways you can foster this important skill in your child. Along with similar qualities like self-control, perseverance and resilience, grit is boosted in a variety of ways.
Here are 5 effective strategies to consider:
Be an authoritative parent
If we want to raise “gritty” children--those who persevere through life’s challenges, face setbacks and follow their passions--we must first provide them with a sense of emotional safety.
Children who know that their parents love and support them unconditionally are much more likely to take on healthy risks and not give up when things become difficult.
This parenting style, known as authoritative, is characterized by warmth and empathy, coupled with high standards and expectations. It is also associated with children who develop grit.
“The reason this style produces grittier kids is because children of this parenting style tend to strive to emulate their parents, seeing as their parents have retained their respect and adoration. Thus, gritty parents in this category, will have grittier kids, seeing as they’re more likely to follow suit.”
-Avital Schreiber Levy
Authoritative parents maintain high (but reasonable) aspirations for their children, and command respect by establishing clear rules and boundaries at home. Children feel safe when they know what to expect, and can trust they’ll be supported with any of the challenges that come their way.
Give them opportunities
According to Duckworth, having your child pursue one difficult thing is key to fostering grit. Prompt them to choose one thing to learn that requires discipline and effort.
While the activity itself isn’t as important, the “hard thing” should be something your child feels passionate about, or highly interested in. Ideas include gymnastics, piano, track or drawing. Whatever their choice, they should persevere with it until its natural end point.
“That means the end of the season, the end of the year, or until tuition is paid. This rule makes it impossible to give up just because you had a hard day, but possible to give up when you’re really done and you’re no longer interested.”
-Avital Schreiber Levy
Encouraging your child to try new (and hard) things allows them to develop the confidence and self-esteem required of tackling challenges in the future, and the grit to stick with it despite setbacks.
Let them get frustrated
It’s hard to watch a child struggle, and only natural when parents want to step in. But grit isn’t developed by avoiding challenges and difficulties.
When parents remove a child’s struggles and frustrations, we also remove the chance for them to learn to manage these feelings and persevere through them.
When kids never have the ability to succeed at something difficult, they may never develop confidence in their ability to confront challenges. Don't let kids quit just because they are having a bad day.
-Jill Ceder, psychotherapist
When a child is facing difficulty, see it for the opportunity it is. Manage your own reactions to their frustration, and model how to stay calm by inhaling a few breaths, or talking about how you need a few minutes to yourself.
You can also consider:
- Playing cooperative games to face frustrations together
- Brainstorming a list of positive ways to express emotions (“I’m feeling frustrated so I’m going to take a break” or “I need to take a few deep breaths before I come back to this problem”)
- Talking about emotions openly and naming them as they come up (“It seems like you’re angry this isn’t working out the way you wanted. That happens to me too.”)
Also, consider placing these fun printables for kids, packed with encouraging words, on bedroom walls or high-traffic areas in the home to help in these moments.
Teach Problem-Solving Skills
Begin by modeling problem-solving for your child. Simply acknowledge the daily problems you face (“Oops! I just took a wrong turn!”) and how you are planning to solve them. You might even ask your child what he or she would do in the situation.
Next, explain the 3-step process for solving problems:
You might consider hanging these 3 steps at eye level, where your child can refer to them when problems arise.
Always be sure to give your child the time and space to identify the issue at hand. Be there to guide and support, while not removing the issue entirely.
- Identify the problem (“What is happening?”)
- Brainstorm a variety of solutions (“What could we do to make it better?”)
- Pick one (or more) solutions to try (“The more solutions the better! Let’s pick one to try first. If that doesn’t work, we can think about why and try something different.”)
Promote a growth mindset
Growth mindset is the belief that effort and persistence are key to success. Children with growth mindsets recognize that mistakes and failure are part of how we learn.
Tell your child her brain is like a muscle that gets stronger each time she faces a challenge. Struggling means her brain is growing and developing, and making new connections. In this way, difficulties are not to be avoided--they are crucial to the learning process.
Be sure to focus your praise on hard work and effort rather than your child’s intelligence or “innate talents.” Praise the process your child went through to achieve each successful outcome, and talk about ways that she can do more of that in the future.
Model growth mindset for your child by talking about your struggles, and what you’ve done to overcome them. Let them know that you learn by trying, failing, and trying again. When children learn that we can “fail forward” each time, they are more likely to take healthy risks and develop grit.
“Lots of parents don’t want to talk about their failures in front of their kids, but that’s denying kids the potentially powerful experience of seeing their parents bounce back.”
-Paul Tough, How Children Succeed
Also, consider the benefits of using a growth mindset journal with your child. Journaling can empower your child to write about (and learn from) challenges with confidence!
The quality of grit, associated with persevering through challenges, is key for a successful life. Children develop grit by facing problems head-on, knowing they’ll be supported along the way. Allow your child to experience setbacks, trusting them as an opportunity to struggle and grow.