True Grit

I watch her struggle and do not help. She can’t quite get it. Her tongue flails wildly outside her mouth, the way it always does when she is intensely focused on accomplishing something. Frustrated grunts escape her lips. She keeps trying and I keep watching. I will not help her even though I can see exactly what she needs to do to accomplish this task. Although it is hard to just sit back and watch my child struggle without offering assistance, I do it anyway. Why? Because she is developing a character trait that is essential to lifelong success: grit.

Now the word “grit” may conjure up mental images of stubble faced cowboys working in the blistering sun. In fact, I encourage you to embrace this image. No, I am not telling you to turn your child into a cowboy (unless you really want to). However, I do think that the stereotypes associated with grit are worth exploring. America was built on the backs of gritty people.

The fact is that there is now scientific evidence available that backs up the theory that work ethic can take you further in life than IQ. Over the past few years Dr. Angela Duckworth has been conducting some very interesting studies out of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center. She developed what she called the “Grit Scale” to measure this quality that has always seemed somewhat intangible.

The Grit Scale has achieved credibility through its uncanny ability to predict who will be successful in a variety of situations including the Scripps National Spelling Bee participants and Ivy League undergraduate students. One of the most famous institutions to employ the use of the Grit Scale is the famed military academy, West Point. Using the Grit Scale, Dr. Duckworth was able to predict who would make it through the grueling first summer of being a cadet. She went up against the officials that review and enroll applicants, and beat them handily at predicting who would be successful in their completion of the cadet program. She was also able to accurately predict who among those would be at the top of their class.

So what does this mean for you and your child? Life presents us with opportunities to develop fortitude every single day. We need to embrace those chances when they present themselves to us and our children. This means not helping your child when you see him struggling, even if it breaks your heart. You are setting him up for success by doing so.

I realize that this is truly easier said than done. We are our children’s keepers. We feel a deep responsibility to protect them and keep them joyful. When our children struggle, we feel a natural inclination to help them. However, we must be incredibly conscientious about how and when we intervene. It is important to look for the signals that will tell you to help. Some of these signals include: your child asking you for help after trying independently first, a complete meltdown, or a situation in which you assess that your child will not be safe without your help. These are the times to step in.

When an adult interferes with a child’s attempts to do something challenging independently, the results can be disastrous. Your unnecessary interference sends your child two messages: 1) “I don’t think that you can do it.”  2) “You shouldn’t have to try hard for the things you want. Life should be easy for you.” Guess what? Eventually your child will be able to do it and life isn’t easy, even for really adorable people. Now is the time to allow your child to learn that making an effort and being willing to try over and over again to accomplish your goals is the way to a fulfilling life.

There are many ways in which we can help our children develop grit. We have already discussed the importance of allowing your child to muster the energy to get through a difficult task. As your child gets older, there are other opportunities that present themselves as grit building opportunities. When your child makes a choice to do an activity or join a club or team, make them stick with it for at least a set amount of time. Don’t let them quit before they finish or drop out before the season is over. Talk to them about why they want to quit and what they want to try to do instead.

Another opportunity for teaching your child grit comes in the form of allowing them to experience grief. The loss of a pet, friend or family member is not something from which a child should not be sheltered. In fact this presents an incredible chance for you to connect deeply with your child while still allowing her to develop the much-needed fortitude that is required for making something of yourself in this life. The truth is that there is much sadness in this life and children have the right to be enveloped in their full range of emotions. The grieving process, when done carefully and intentionally, allows your child to be connected to his feelings while coming to an understanding that there is hope and joy at the end of the tunnel of sadness through which we must sometimes pass. Helping your child through this time in a way that is honest and supportive sends this message: “If you can get through this, you can get through anything.”

There is not much in this life that is more painful than witnessing your child experience frustration and sadness. But these things are indeed a part of life. At some point, your child will experience both. The younger they are when you allow them to do it, the more you will allow them to develop fortitude and pursue success in life. So, cowboy up and get gritty!

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

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~ by vegucationmama on February 3, 2012.

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