Growing Gritty Kids

Growing Gritty Kids

“If you want to bring forth grit in your child, first ask how much passion and perseverance you have for your own life goals. Then ask yourself how likely it is that your approach to parenting encourages your child to emulate you.”

If that’s not a kick in the pants, I’m not sure what is.

I finished reading Angela Duckworth’s Grit a couple weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about it. Duckworth finds grit to be a combination of passion and perseverance, and with scientific research she ties it to all sorts of wonderful things, not the least of which are success and well-being.

The good news is that according to Duckworth: “You can grow your grit… from the inside-out” by doing such things as cultivating your interests and finding purpose in your daily work. Or you can grow it from the outside-in by finding teachers or mentors to aid in your growth.

But let’s back up a bit to why you’d actually want to grow your grit and–as I’d like to make the case for–why it’s so important for us to teach our kids to be gritty from the get-go:

“Ultimately, adopting a gritty perspective involved recognizing that people get better at things–they grow.”

“A growth mindset leads to optimistic ways of explaining adversity, and that, in turn, leads to perseverance and seeking out new challenges that will ultimately make you even stronger.”

Gritty people grow and have optimism in the face of adversity leading to strength. 

“…you can see that grittier people are dramatically more motivated than others to seek a meaningful, other-centered life.”

Gritty people live a life of purpose for ourselves and the people around us.

“I found that the grittier a person is, the more likely they’ll enjoy a healthy emotional life.”

Gritty people thrive with health and emotional stability. 

All of these traits or skills are things I want for myself and also–desperately–for my child. So how do we go about cultivating this in our children?

Interest. Practice. Purpose. Hope

These four things are what Duckworth claim stirs the passion within us. These combine to form our grit–making us successful, hardworking, and loving our work. As parents our role is to combine these four facets of life into gritty people!

We need to help our children discover their interests. Initially this is going to look a lot like play and discovering the world around them. It is sometimes easy to want to sign our children up for all the things, but this can be overwhelming and not necessarily helpful to developing grit: “…shortcutting this stage of relaxed, playful, interest, discovery, and development has dire consequences.”

In finding their interests we do help them try new things and encourage them along the way. “Encouragement during the early years is crucial because beginners are still figuring out whether they want to commit or cut bait…the best mentors at this stage were especially warm and supportive….A degree of autonomy during the early years is also important….Kids whose parents let them make their own choices about what they like are more likely to develop interests later identified as passion.” The three attributes that Duckworth found most helpful in parents, teachers, mentors is to be warm, respectful, and demanding.

As our kids discover their interests over the years we help them practice these skills. Duckworth shares ways to help encourage our children to keep trying: “That didn’t work. Let’s talk about how you approached it and what might work better.” rather than “Well, at least you tried.” We set aside time so our kids can work on the things that they love.

“The reality is that our early interests are fragile, vaguely defined, and in need of energetic, years-long cultivation[,] and refinement.” (I mean, yes I did just insert the Oxford comma. I just can’t not.) This means that we will need to help our children practice things even on days that it’s hard. We will need to keep our expectations at an appropriate level of challenge and capability.

I love Duckworth’s rule about Hard Things. Everyone in their family does (at least) one hard thing. They get to choose the hard thing, but they have to stick with it until a natural ending point. And in high school (and beyond) they need to stick with their hard thing for at least two years. This helps hone the skills needed to master an interest.

And as they practice their utilizing the skills they’ve developed in their areas of interest, we help them figure out how they fit into the rest of the world. We help them discover the ways that their gifts give purpose to others around us. 

“A lot of anxiety comes from the assumption that your calling is like a magical entity that exists in the world, waiting to be discovered…they don’t realize they need to play an active role in developing and deepening their interests…you can continually look at what you do and ask how it connects to other people, how it connects to the bigger pictures, how it can be an expression of your deepest values.”

And lastly, we build hope in our children. I’m not sure that the author is Christian, but as a Christian parent I believe that hope is the most important part of grit. My hope is in the Resurrection and the Salvation of the world. While I likewise don’t believe that our calling “is a magical entity that exists in the world”, I do believe that a calling is a call from God that he instills in our hearts. Our role as humans is to be gritty: to discover the interests that God has given us, to work hard to master the skills needed to develop these interests, to do our work for the love and the good of the people around us, with our hope in God and eternal life.