Monday, August 26, 2013

Building Grit in our Kids

I just watched a TED Talk that struck a major chord with me. I guess it mostly confirmed something most of us already know - but helped me name something I really want to work on with my kids.

Angela Lee Duckworth spent years studying what determines success - tried to predict who'd succeed and who'd fail in really tough situations - West Point accademy, the National Spelling Bee, rookie teachers in really tough environments, salespeople at big companies. She found that that IQ, social intelligence, good looks and many other important contributing factors are NOT the most important factors that determine success. What determined who'd succeed was GRIT.

Grit is passion and perseverance for a long period of time. Grit is keeping your eye on the big goals and working towards them steadily even when the immediate stuff is really hard and really not fun. Grit is living life like a marathon, not like a sprint.

We know so little about how to build grit in people. Talent doesn't make you gritty. Grit is unrelated or inversely related to talent. Growth mindset - an idea from Carol Dweck at Stanford University - is the idea that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort. When kids lean about the brain and how it can grow and develop and recognize that failure is not a permanent position, it helps them develop grit. But Ms. Duckworth said there's no real answers yet about to how to build grit in people. She said we need to be gritty about figuring out how to build grit.

Watch the whole talk here if you want (it's just 5 minutes - and really leaves you hanging!).

When I look at my own children and the people I know well, I see quite clearly that those who find success in their endeavors are generally gritty. So I want to do all I can do to help my kids develop that grit they need. Some of them have come by some serious grit quite naturally. For others, developing grit will be a bit of an uphill battle. But I believe it's possible. And I believe it's quite necessary.

I know that when I help my kids set goals that are a bit of a stretch - but not too much of a stretch - and help them make and execute do-able plans to get to their goals, then celebrate their achievements like crazy when they reach those goals, I think it helps them build grit. As they achieve hard things, they see that they can stretch, they can accomplish, they can reach. And I think seeing that hard stuff is possible is an essential element of grit.

One of my kids got a terrible grade in PE last year because he didn't really try very hard at all. He kept forgetting to bring his PE uniform. He didn't push himself when they did the required Presidential Fitness Tests. He said his foot hurt or his back hurt or his shoes were too tight or whatever the malady of the day was. And when we saw that ridiculous PE grade (which was based purely on just bringing your PE stuff and showing real effort), we weren't pleased.

We decided that in order for this child to have the tablet he'd saved up to buy, he needed to rectify that grade. We had him look up the Presidential Fitness Test online and find out how many push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups a kid his age was supposed to be able to do plus how fast he was supposed to be able to run a mile. And he agreed to work to meet those benchmarks and pass the fitness test this summer to make up for his bad grade and earn the right to get the tablet he earnestly wanted. We helped him make a chart and a plan including a few minutes a day several days a week of working on physical stuff. And we assured him he'd have the tablet within a couple weeks if he followed the plan. He's a strong, healthy kid and the benchmarks seemed very reasonable for him.

Well, despite lots of gentle reminders and suggestions, he just didn't get going on this stuff. He sporadically worked on a few sit ups or push ups here or there and with some slight arm-twisting, he consented to running a mile on a few occasions.

Finally, as the end of the summer loomed near, we decided to place a time limit on his goal and helped him draw up a more specific timeline and schedule for getting his goals accomplished. And with the more specific plan and timeline, things started to click for him. He passed off the sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups fairly quickly by getting into the right mindset and pushing past the "I hate this" feeling just a little. But the running goal was the hardest one - not something he could just push himself to do by trying extra hard for a few minutes (like he was able to do with the sit ups and pushups and pull ups). He needed to run every day for a while to increase his speed and get to the required 8 minute 15 second mile. He really doesn't like running. We accepted that then assured him that he COULD do it and helped him see that taking 10 minutes or so to go running each morning for a while really wasn't the worst thing ever. And once he got consistent with running a mile every morning, he was able to meet the goal on his 6th time in a row. We were all SO happy for him! And he's SO excited to have that tablet in his hands - there's nothing like getting something you've really worked hard to get.

I don't think this goal turned this child into a runner. Or into a really self-motivated guy. But I do think it helped him to see some grit in himself. And he needed to see that in order to build more grit. Grit builds on grit.

How else do you think we can build grit in our children? I'd sure love some help here!


Alicia Conway said...

I like to spend much time with kids, thus, I decided to help them with home assignments to stay with them for longer. Not being good at math I frequently use homework help online services.

Camile said...

Building grit is so important! I like how you helped your son build grit with his PE requirements. It seems that sometimes the kids with the most talent and natural ability have the least amount of grit because they've never had to really work hard at anything. I guess the trick is to find things that make them stretch and to help motivate them to go for it. (Which in turn, requires a parent to have some grit - cause it's not easy to motivate someone who doesn't necessarily want to be motivated!) I'll have to listen to this TED talk - thanks!

Alissa and Brandon Owen Family said...

Great blog post. I feel like tennis has helped my kids build grit. It's all always up to them individually. They never can get a "sub", they have to make their own calls (show integrity), deal with adversity with grace (questionable calls of others), and endure losing and poor sports when they lose. The tennis match itself seems incidental. The experience, though, on teaching character, stamina, "grit" and class, is priceless.


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