Grit, as defined by world-renowned psychologist Dr. Angela Duckworth, PhD, is “our passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” It’s the effort, commitment, and determination to adapt in the face of challenge and nevertheless persist.
Current cultural values too often focus on having a fixed amount of natural talent, intelligence, and giftedness. Either you have it or you don’t. Phrases that we all use with the best of intentions include, “you’re so smart!” or “what a natural!”
However, Duckworth argues that the cultivation of grit, which can grow and develop, is what will truly prepare your child for a life that is satisfying, meaningful, and gratifying. We now know that brains are malleable and benefit from opportunities to grow, strengthen, and create new wiring connections throughout life.
As the last weeks of summer approach, this is a perfect opportunity to reexamine how you already may be cultivating grit in your family. You may also find that you inadvertently ignore or even undermine the development of grit. Instead, I invite you to highlight and reframe setbacks or perceived failures as grit-growing opportunities.
Be sure to take note of what motivates and interests your child. What is his or her passion? Duckworth recommends that parents encourage children to stick with an interest for longer than one to two years and during that time to focus on growth and improvement. She devised and practices the “Hard Thing Rule,” which means that you select a challenging activity—a sport, instrument, art, dance, or a foreign language—that you must practice nearly every day. Everyone in a family selects their own commitment activity and must stick with it until the end of the tuition period or school year. She recommends that you revisit your interest and commitment, to anticipate peaks and valleys, but to encourage one another to persist through boredom, struggles, or challenges.
Children, especially if they have low self-confidence, ADHD, anxiety, or learning challenges, may need extra assistance to promote and cultivate grit. That is because self-doubt, loss of interest, the drive for novelty, or the cumulative impact from years of negative feedback may inadvertently undermine the development of grit. All children, but especially these children, will benefit from their parents, caregivers, coaches, and teachers mindfully reinforcing, modeling, and intentionally encouraging the growth of grit in them.
Here are some sample phrases to consider adding to your repertoire when giving your child feedback, praise, or encouragement:
“Yes, keep on practicing!”
“I love seeing how passionate you are about this.”
“I know it’s hard, I’m here to help, but first let’s look at what you’ve already tried.”
“I believe in you to see this through.”
“You can be proud of yourself for sticking with it. I’m proud of you for trying, learning, and growing.”
Ellie Pelc, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist at Parents Place in San Francisco.