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Why Grit is More Important in Your Kids Than IQ (And One Simple Way to Teach It)

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Crawling at 6 months, walking at 11 months, talking in complete sentences by 13 months, spelling the word “truck” at 20 months. I was so obsessed by my boys’ achievements when they were younger. I wasn’t the only one, either. The mommy yoga class and library story time were full of parents comparing and analyzing our children’s early signs of intelligence.

But do we know if smarts can actually predict success in life?

Studies by social scientists like Dr. Carol Dweck and Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth have shown that having a high IQ doesn’t guarantee success in this world.

In her TED talk, Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth explained that IQ was not what determined who were her best and worst students. She found that some of her best performers did NOT have genius-level IQs and her students with those coveted high IQs weren’t actually doing so well.  

What the best students had was GRIT. It was defined by Dr. Duckworth as passion and perseverance towards long-term goals.  

But why grit is more important than IQ? Here are 3 main reasons.

 

Why GRIT is more important in your kids than IQ (and how to teach it).

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1. The IQ Test is Flawed 

Experts are finding that intelligence is a lot more than one thing. It’s separate cognitive abilities like short-term memory, reasoning, and verbal skills.

They also found that different circuits or pathways in the brain are used for these different thought processes and, therefore, we would need at least THREE separate tests to test for someone’s intelligence.

Moreover, cognitive abilities aren’t everything.

There are also non-cognitive abilities. They are grit, tenacity, and perseverance. In its 2013 brief, the US Department of Education’s Office of Technology noted that these abilities 

“...are essential to an individual’s capacity to strive for and succeed at long-term and higher-order goals...”

Experts have known for years that the test is flawed when it comes to predicting success.  Back in 1921, an education psychologist Lewia Terman set up a study to track the success and progress of over 1,000 children who had taken the IQ test.  None of the people he labeled as having high IQs went on to be smashing successes.

Moreover, there were two future Nobel Prize-winning physicists that he dismissed from the study as their test scores were not high enough.

2. Geniuses aren’t Born, They are Made

When we say “genius” many of us immediately think of Albert Einstein.

But Einstein wasn’t born a genius. He was thought to be mentally delayed and possibly deficient. He hardly talked and he certainly didn’t do well in school.  Even he would tell you his intelligence didn’t really matter. 

“It’s not that I’m smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

“It’s not that I’m smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” Albert Einstein

Professor Michael Howe in his book Genius Explained agrees:

“What makes geniuses special is their long-term commitment. They struggle very hard and they keep on persisting.” 

He points to other geniuses, like Charles Darwin, who was thought to be aimless and shiftless, and the Bronte sisters, who honed their writing skills through years and years of hard work.

And none of these people were child prodigies. They were people like you and me. With the support and encouragement of their parents, these geniuses worked, practiced and focused on one thing until they mastered it. 

 3. The Focus on IQ Results in a Fixed Mindset 

There's a notion that IQ is an insular concept. Most people are convinced that they can’t change their score because it’s based on their innate abilities. 

That kind of thinking is what Dr. Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, calls a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their failures have to do with a lack of ability.

People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that if they work hard enough and use the right strategies they can accomplish anything. 

If a child spends enough time believing they don’t have the ability to succeed they can develop learned helplessness. A child who acquired learned helplessness just gives up. They stop trying no matter what kind of encouragements or rewards are offered.

Fixed mindset causes  learned helplessness,  a belief that your situation is hopeless and beyond your control.

My oldest son had learned helplessness in math. When he was in first and second grade he was pushed along into math much more complex than he could handle.

He tried at first and then over the months he eventually stopped trying to answer the questions, writing 0s and 1s down in random order on the answer lines. Instead of getting extra help he was eventually labeled by his teachers as “not a math person.”

It took two years of tutoring with me and another year with a fantastic math teacher to pull himself out of this learned helplessness and fixed mindset. We started by going back to kinds of math he understood to build up his confidence and ability again.

How To Teach Your Kids Grit Using Challenges 

So how do you teach your kids GRIT? 

Remember Dr. Duckworth's definition: grit is passion and perseverance towards long-term goals. 

grit is passion and perseverance towards long-term goals

So there are three components to teaching grit: perseverance, long-term goals, and passion towards these goals. We covered perseverance here and we'll be covering passion and goal-setting in future blog posts.

In the meantime, one simple way you can help your kids develop grit is by encouraging them to take on (preferably, long-term) challenges.   

Step 1: Select a Challenge 

In a recent podcast, Peter Diamandis talked about parenting for success. It turns out many successful adults faced significant struggles during their childhood: poverty, loss of a parent, or a learning disability. These early struggles became “practice” of overcoming challenges which helped them later in life.

Although someone like Richard Branson did not have such difficulties in his childhood, his mom would purposefully build challenges into his every day life. Branson credits this with his grittiness and overall success in life.

Richard Branson talking about his mom: "She was incredibly supportive, lots of love, but every opportunity she had, she would push us to the limits."

You could do this, too.

You can help your child build his or her own challenges to feel proud of conquering. Talk to them and find out what they think is a real challenge for them, then help them build a plan to tackle it. 

If they get stuck in selecting a challenge, suggest they take on one of the bingo games we created: “My Reading Bingo” or “My Outside Adventures Bingo”. 

One of the benefits here is that a bingo game will take more than a day to complete. This will help your kids practice sticking to the long-term goals (which is what grit is all about). 

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Step 2: Coach Them Through 

Once you set up a challenge for your kids talk them through the struggle

For example, through every challenge I emphasize my boys’ hard work. I talk to them about the importance of the process and what they learned rather than whether they were successful.

I developed a method called TRY to better talk them through challenges and to train them to talk themselves through the rough patches.

TRY stands for: Trust your ability; Recognize how you can do better; and Yearn to succeed.

Your child is unlikely to succeed if they can’t trust his or her own ability. And they also have to know that you trust that they have what it takes. Tell them, “You can do this. I know you can.”

Next they have to recognize how they can do better. This stems from David Cooperrider’s work on Appreciative Inquiry.

First they look at what happened. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Then ask them to look at what they did well. After they name one thing you can move to what could have gone better. Then move them onto thinking about what they can do next time so they don’t make the same mistake.

And this moves them into yearning to succeed. It feels amazing to conquer something you were having problems completing. Having your children experience what success feels like keeps the ball rolling and they want to keep feeling that amazing high of success.

This process works especially after a crushing defeat. It works because we aren’t allowing the defeat to be the end point. Your child is moving themselves beyond thoughts of quitting and into a plan for the next time. They are getting gritty.

Step 3: Encourage Excellence

Once your child begins working on his challenges, he might want to be done with it as soon as possible. Encourage them to complete it the best of their ability instead. You can ask:

“Have you done the best you could do here?”

This strategy is what education specialist and author Ron Berger calls an Environment of Excellence. This is an environment – in the home or in the classroom – that encourages work done to the very best of one’s abilities.

This is where the child learns to care about the quality of their work rather than how quickly they completed that math worksheet or how many words they used in this essay. 

If they perform to the best of their abilities, their horizons will expand. As Berger writes in his book, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students,

“Work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility.”

Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same.  There is a new  self-image,  a new notion of possibility.

Recap

There are three main reasons why GRIT is a better predictor of success than IQ.

1. The IQ Test is Flawed

Even if a child scores high on an IQ test, it’s only testing one thing inside his brain and completely missing most of the cognitive and ALL of the non-cognitive abilities that do actually ensure success. 

2. Geniuses aren't Born They are Made

People like Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin were thought to be mentally deficient when growing up. Later they attributed their high intellect to years of hard work.

3. IQ Encourages a Fixed Mindset

Most people are convinced that they can’t change their IQ score because it’s based on their innate abilities. This breeds fixed mindset and learned helplessness.

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