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“Gritty people have a growth mindset; when bad things happen, they don’t give up.”
- Angela Duckworth
Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk on “grit” as one of the most important predictors of success went massively viral in 2013. Her 2016 book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance was an instant New York Times bestseller.
By now, Duckworth’s concept has made its way into national education policy, and public schools in California even grade schools and students on grit.
But despite grit’s prevalence, Duckworth says the concept is often misunderstood. Duckworth’s definition of grit is “passion and perseverance toward long-term goals,” but she says that people often overlook the passion part.
I think that the passion piece is at least as important. I mean, if you are really, really tenacious and dogged about a goal that’s not meaningful to you, and not interesting to you — then that’s just drudgery.
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Perseverance and especially passion may sound unteachable, but they aren’t. It just takes time and consistency. Repeat the following activities with your child to help him develop his inner grittiness, putting him on the path to happiness and success.
1. Help Your Child Find Purpose
A study by psychology researchers including Dr. Carol Dweck and Dr. David Yeager indicates that students are more motivated to succeed when they have a core purpose.
The study involved brief online interventions in which students were asked to write about how they wish the world could be a better place, read stories about how performing well in school can help students positively impact the world, and think about their own dreams and how their education could help them achieve these goals.
As students developed the belief that they could achieve purpose in life, they grew more motivated and performed better academically. They were also more likely to persist toward a degree.
You can help your child develop grit (both passion and perseverance) by discussing his goals and purpose in life. Then, talk about the steps that would be required in order for your child to reach his goal.
Use the Goal-Setting printables to help your child practice the activity (part of our Confidence & Self Esteem Kit.
If your child is younger, try a more simple, engaging approach like a dream board. Also called vision boards, dream boards are a powerful visualization tool to help kids create and achieve their goals.
On a sheet of poster board, your child will post images or text that reflect his passions, hopes, and goals. Visualizing what he wants to achieve will help your child develop a positive mental attitude and focus on his passion and purpose.
You can read more about using dream boards to motivate your child here.
Creating a dream board fosters grit because it will help your child celebrate his passions and link them to specific goals he would like to achieve. Plus, it’s a fun activity for the two of you to do together!
2. Encourage Your Child to Conduct “Grit Interviews”
Your child can interview grandparents, neighbors, or other acquaintances who have worked hard toward a long-term goal. Encourage him/her use the My Great Grit Interview printable found in the Resilience Kit to ask questions and draw a picture of the interviewee.
You can share your “gritty stories” with your child as well. It’s helpful for kids to understand that even adults can mess up, but then try again and ultimately solve a problem or reach a goal.
As your child hears stories about grit from people he admires (including you), he’ll want to mirror these values in his own life.
3. Share Stories of Gritty Famous People
Your child can also learn from stories about famous people who used passion and perseverance to reach long-term goals, often with failures or setbacks along the way.
Stories like Michael Jordan not making his Varsity team, or J.K. Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter being rejected almost a dozen times, will show your child that perseverance through failure can lead to great success.
If any of these famous people had given up when they experienced failure, they would never have achieved their fame and success. “Luck” is an illusion; success is about hard work and persistence toward something you’re passionate about.
The Famous Failures Kit has examples of famous people experiencing and responding to failure. The kit guides you through reading and discussing the stories in order to teach your child the meaning of grit—and how to use it in his own life.
4. Teach About Grit Through Nature
We can certainly learn lessons about perseverance from nature. Just think about the Tupac Shakur poem “The Rose That Grew from Concrete.”
The poem reads:
You can read this poem with your child to discuss what represents the “concrete” in her life. What are her obstacles? Next, discuss how your child can “breakthrough concrete” like the rose. What can she do to overcome her obstacles and reach her dreams?
This activity is a fun way to practice components of Gabriele Oettingen’s WOOP strategy and help your child develop grit. You can also show your child pictures or real-life examples of the resilience and perseverance of nature, then connect these images to how your child lives her own life.
5. Teach About Grit Through Literature
Similarly, you can help your child learn about grit by reading relevant books, poems, or short stories.
For instance, read stories of perseverance like “The Little Engine That Could” or Chelsea Clinton's "She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History".
Use stories like “The Hugging Tree: A Story About Resilience” by Jill Neimark. It tells the story of a tree who grows alone on a cliff. The tree faces many challenges, but it continues to stand strong, find the positive, and ultimately help others with their own challenges.
These are fun, colorful stories that your child will request again and again! As you read these stories, you can also help your child form connections to his own life. Talk about his challenges, his response to failures, and how to live his own life with grit.
You will find more book suggestions in our Top 85 Growth Mindset Books for Children and Adults printable list available in the Growth Mindset Printables Kit.
6. Ask, “What’s the Hard Part?”
When your child feels discouraged or tempted to give up, try asking him, “What’s the hard part?”
Once your child has identified what is difficult for him, repeat the information back in your own words. This helps your child identify his biggest challenge, allowing him to break it down into a more manageable task.
After the two of you have identified the challenge, ask your child what he could do to fix or overcome “the hard part.” He’ll likely come up with an answer and realize that problems can be solved if he perseveres and takes the time to think them through.
Don’t give your child the answer, even if you have to guide him to it.
It’s so much more powerful for a child to be able to deal with adversity and overcome it. What the child takes from that experience is, ‘Hey, I can solve things.’
Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed
Helping your child find “the hard part” and navigate a way to overcome the challenge is a powerful way to teach him about grit.
Have your child practice problem-solving techniques using the 5 Problem-Solving Step printable cards from the Growth Mindset Activity Kit.
7. Follow the “Hard Thing Rule”
Angela Duckworth teaches grit to her own two daughters using the “Hard Thing Rule.” Duckworth’s rule has three parts:
- Each member of the family has to do something hard, "something that requires practice, something where you're going to get feedback telling you how you can get better, and you're going to get right back in there and try again and again."
- You must finish what you start. Duckworth requires her kids to finish a season, a set of lessons that were signed up for, etc.
- No one gets to pick the “hard thing” for anyone else, so your child gets to choose his own challenge.
This is a rule that your whole family can follow, holding each other accountable and setting an example for your child. The “hard thing” can be an instrument, a sport, a subject or area of interest, an activity, and so on.
The “Hard Thing Rule” combines passion (because you choose what to pursue) and perseverance (because you promise to stick to it), and your child will experience success or improvement with something challenging. This will build his confidence and teach him the benefits of grit.
8. Try the “Grit Pie” Exercise
This activity will work best with an older child, but a young child could complete it with guidance.
Amy Lyon, a fifth-grade teacher from New Hampshire, created an entire grit curriculum based on the book The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania professor and co-founder of Positive Psychology. Lyon uses the “grit pie” activity with her students to teach optimism and help them become aware of their thoughts.
The pie represents an obstacle the student is facing. Each slice of pie symbolizes a cause of the problem. For each slice, students analyze whether their thoughts about the problem are permanent (“I’ll never be good at math”) or temporary (“My friend was talking too much and distracting me”) and whether they blame themselves (“I should have asked the teacher for help when I didn’t understand”) or others (“The teacher didn’t teach us this material!”).
Hopefully, most of your child’s problems will be categorized as “temporary” and he’ll take at least some responsibility for causing the problem.
Point out that these issues are temporary and within your child’s control. How can your child make positive changes to resolve them? Completing this activity will show your child that the majority of obstacles can be overcome with problem-solving and perseverance.
9. Share Your Passions
Lastly, you can inspire your child to find hobbies and interests he’s passionate about by enthusiastically sharing your own passions.
Show your child your excitement about activities outside of working and parenting, and devote time to developing these passions. Not only will this make you happier and more fulfilled, but it’ll also set a great example for your child about pursuing your passions.
This will also encourage your child to openly share his own passions with you. Be supportive and interested in whatever your child is passionate about, and provide resources that will help him explore and develop these interests.
It’s encouraging to know that grit, one of the most important indicators of success, is entirely teachable. At the same time, teaching your child “passion and perseverance toward long-term goals” sounds like a difficult task.
You can start by consistently repeating the following activities:
- Help your child find dreams, goals, and a core purpose in life.
- Encourage your child to conduct “grit interviews” of adults in his life.
- Teach your child about grit through stories of famous people who failed before finding success.
- Read the poem “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” and teach your child about grit by finding examples in nature.
- Read stories about grit and help your child connect them to his own life.
- Ask your child, “What’s the hard part?” and help him problem-solve when he wants to give up.
- Follow Duckworth’s “Hard Thing Rule” as a family.
- Try Amy Lyon’s exercise “Grit Pie” to show your child that obstacles can be overcome.
- Share your own passions with your child, and pursue them regularly.
These simple activities can help your child build the passion and perseverance he needs to succeed in school and in life.