Does your kid have grit? Does mine?

One mom wonders how to make her daughter gritty enough to succeed in the world. How do you teach grit to someone who can't walk yet? 

Screenshot from TED talk
Angela Lee Duckworth presents her talk, 'The key to success? Grit' at the TED Talks Education event in April 2013.

What makes our kids successful? Is it their IQ, beauty, social skills, common sense, intuitiveness, and inherent wisdom? 

According to psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, it’s grit. In a TED talk she gave in April 2013, she says, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future – day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years – and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.” 

NPR’s story, “On The Syllabus: Lessons In Grit,” highlighted one public school in Brooklyn, N.Y., that is including the concept of grit in the classroom. Lennox Academy focuses on what’s called a “growth mindset,” meaning that kids should focus on effort, not smartness, to be successful in the classroom and beyond. “Kids who believe success comes from effort are grittier and ultimately do best.”

The TED talk and NPR story got me thinking, how can I cultivate grit in my 1-year-old daughter? Though she’s years away from school, I often think about how to help her become a strong, happy, and confident woman. Grit definitely enters into the equation.

Looking back on my childhood, I don’t think my parents were thinking about grit when they were raising me, but I learned to be gritty, nonetheless. Helping to take care of my brother, ten years my junior, after my mom died, gave me a sense of responsibility and confidence. Doing chores such as taking out the trash, folding laundry, and loading the dishwasher also contributed to my success as an adult. 

When I was in college, I ran a couple of half-marathons with the mindset that I only needed to run a few more steps, then a few more, until I was amazed to find I completed both races without ever stopping to walk. I learned I should look at long-term goals without ignoring the importance of my present footsteps.

I deeply want to cultivate grittiness in my daughter. But how? 

One way, I think, is by ignoring her. When she’s having trouble playing with a new toy, for instance, I’m so tempted to swoop in and show her how to do it, but teaching her grit involves her having to figure out things on her own. After a while trying on her own, of course I’ll help her, but it’s important that she tries by herself first.

Another way to cultivate her grittiness is by traveling with her. She’s already been to Puerto Rico, Mexico City, St. Louis, and next week we’re taking her to California. Opening her up to other cultures and ways of life makes her realize that not everyone lives exactly the way we do, and that’s OK. Flexibility is key during travel, especially with kids, so with every plane and car ride, she’s learning to go with the flow.

There are lots of tumbles and bumps at my house these days as my daughter cautiously learns how to navigate her little world. Her legs are wobbly, her head is a bit oversized, and her balance isn’t quite up to snuff yet. But whenever she falls, I don’t react. It’s tempting to rush over and comfort her, but that doesn’t benefit her in the long run. She often looks up for my reaction, and I smile at her confidently. If it seems like she needs a bit more encouragement, I say “bounce like Tigger!” Almost always she keeps on playing happily. When she doesn’t, I jump in to provide extra comfort. 

Once she starts walking, chores will definitely be part of her daily routine, teaching her that even when she doesn’t feel like it, there are things that need to be done, so she needs to do them. Complaining won’t get her off the hook, either. She’s already seen me take care of daily chores, so it won’t be a totally foreign concept when I start including her in housework such as putting her toys away, matching socks, and putting trash in the proper bin. 

To me, parenting is, in large part, leading by example. Monkey see, monkey do, right? So if I want my daughter to be gritty, I need to focus on cultivating my own grit too. 

As I mark my first anniversary as a parent, I feel like I’ve come a long way since the day I held her in my arms for the first time. 

Any new parent can tell you that newborns are extremely demanding, and they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about when you say, “just give me five minutes to eat this sandwich in peace.” Taking care of my baby 24/7 has taught me to be gritty in a deeply selfless way. It’s automatic at this point – I just do what needs to be done, no complaining. It’s toughened me up.

Learning not to react to rude comments has also firmed up my backbone. I used to crumple up inside when people would be rude to me, but now it hardly even affects me. I think, “oh, they must be having a bad day,” and just let it roll off me, knowing that their mood or lack of compassion isn't a reflection on me, and then move along with my day as usual.

Learning how to be gritty and teaching our kids the same is a day-to-day process.

I’m up for this marathon. Are you?

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