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How to Raise a Confident Child with Grit

How to Raise a Confident Child with Grit

My husband and I facilitate a couple’s marriage and parenting group. Recently, the group discussed qualities, characteristics, and traits we wanted to see our children develop as they grow up. One term that came up that all parents seemed to upon agree as a highly valued trait was that of grit. The question from our group was:

“Can grit be taught to our children?”

The answer is, yes. Parents can help their child develop grit.

What is grit? Dr. Angela Duckworth is the top researcher on this subject and wrote the book Grit. She defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long term goals”. This new buzz word is popular in the adult realm, but what about our developing children? What if we could help our children develop grit as young children.

Grit is more crucial to success than IQ. Duckworth, through her research at Harvard, found that having grit was a better predictor for an individual’s success than IQ. This means having the smartest kid in the room doesn’t ensure any level of success in their future. They can be brilliant, but if they aren’t properly intrinsically motivated, they won’t be successful.

Grit determines long term success. If a child can’t pick themselves up and try again after a failure, then how are they going to be able to do it as adult?

What a gift it would be to our children to engage them in a manner that helps them recognize their passions, talents, and develop a persevere to purse their goals. Below are some tips on how to raise a confident child with grit.

1. Encouragement is Key

When a child wants to learn how to ride a bike, do they keep going after they fall down or do they quit after the first fall?

If they aren’t encouraged to get up and try again, and instead are coddled and told they can try again some other day, then they are being taught to play it safe.

Safe and coddled don’t exactly go hand-in-hand with building up grit. The child needs to be encouraged to try again. This can be a parent saying “you can do it, I believe in you” and “I know that even if you fall again you will try again and eventually you will get the hang of it”.

Encouragement to keep trying so that they can build up perseverance is very helpful in building a child’s confidence. This confidence is what will help them strike out and try again.

If they feel that they can’t do it or shouldn’t do it, then they won’t. The mind is a powerful thing. If a child believes that they can’t be successful in doing something, then they won’t be successful. Part of building that mentality of believing in themselves comes from encouragement from their parents, care givers, and teachers.

Cheer Them On

How many times have you heard a story of success that someone had in life that all began because someone believed in that person?

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A coach, a mom, a teacher can have a huge impact by believing in the child’s ability to be successful and voicing that encouragement to them. Words are powerful. Use them to build up a child, by telling them that they can do it even if they have try again and again.

Be their support system by being their cheerleader. Cheerleaders don’t just cheer when the team is winning. They cheer words of encouragement to keep the team going.

The same goes with children. We need to cheer for their successes, but also cheer for them to keep going and fighting the fight when life gets tough!

You Can’t Force Them

Keep in mind that you can’t force a child to keep trying. They have to do it themselves.

For example, when my daughter was learning to tie her shoes, it was a real struggle. She gave up. I couldn’t make her want to try to do it again. She had to take a break from the struggle for a few months and then try again.

She was more successful the second time around, because she had matured and her fine motor skills had improved. It would have been ridiculous for me to force her to practice tying her shoes for the three or four months in between, with tears and arguing taking place.

No, instead we took a break. She tried again later. Forcing her to learn something that she wasn’t ready to learn would have pit us against one another. That would have been a poor parenting move.

There are boundaries that parents can set though in some cases. For example, if your child begins an activity and wants to quit mid-season because they are terrible at the sport, you have the opportunity to keep them in the sport through the end of the season to show them that quitting is not an option.

Although they may not win another tennis match the rest of the season or win another swimming race all year long, finishing the commitment is important. It will help with the development of grit by teaching them to persevere through the defeat. It is character building.

If your child is great at all things all the time, they will not develop grit. They need to try things that challenge them. When they aren’t the best at something, or for that matter, the worst, it creates an opportunity for them feel real struggle. Real struggle builds real character.

2. Get Them out of Their Comfort Zone

My daughter wanted to try cheerleading this past fall. She has never done this activity in the past, nor is she particularly coordinated (sorry sweetie). For that matter, she couldn’t even do a cartwheel when cheer season began.

However, we signed up because she was so excited to become a cheerleader. I signed up to coach because there was a need for more cheer coaches. We were all-in at that point.

Once the season began, I quickly realized that cheerleading was far outside my daughter’s comfort zone. The idea of cheerleading was great in her mind. The reality of memorizing cheers and learning physical skills that were hard for her made the experience a struggle. She wanted to quit. I said to her “no, you were the one who wanted to do this, so we finish what we started.” I had to say this more than once. I don’t think anyone on the squad knew this was the case, because she kept at it.

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She kept practicing those cheers every evening. It did not come naturally to her at first, so it was uncomfortable. She always seemed to be half a beat behind the other cheerleaders, which made it very awkward and uncomfortable for her. However, letting her know that quitting mid-season was not an option made her try harder. She wanted to learn the cheers so she wouldn’t stand out on the squad as the girl who didn’t know what she is doing.

By the end of the season, she became a decent cheerleader. Not the best, but she was no longer half a beat behind the rest. She learned skills that were hard for her to conquer. Now that she felt success in achieving something that was uncomfortable and hard for her. She knows she has it in her to do that in other areas of life.

That is why it’s ok for us as parents to let our kids feel the struggle and be uncomfortable. If they don’t experience it when they are young, they will as adults, but they won’t be equipped with the perseverance and inner-strength built from years of working hard through smaller struggles as they grew up.

Allowing our children to struggle helps them build that skill of perseverance, so that they have the grit to achieve hard things in life that they really desire to accomplish.

3. Allow Them To Fail

Your child will fail at things in life. Let them. Do not swoop in and rescue your child from their personal failures. If they don’t fail, then they don’t have the opportunity to pick themselves up and try again.

If I had pulled my daughter from cheerleader once I realized that it was going to be a real struggle, she wouldn’t have experienced failure and struggle. Letting her have this small failure in life taught her lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom. She learned about the power she has within herself to try harder, to practice in order to make change happen, and to push through it even when you feel like giving up because it is embarrassing.

Failure is embarrassing. Learning to handle embarrassment is taking on a fear. When kids learn to do this at a young age, it is practice for adult life. They will experience failure as an adult. They will be better equipped to handle life’s disappointments and failures if they have learned to handle the fear of embarrassment and failure when they are young.

Practice builds up the skill. Processing and handling fear, embarrassment, and failure are skills.

If I had pulled my daughter from cheer and allowed her to quit, I would have taken from her the opportunity to learn how to process and handle the embarrassment and failure she was experiencing at each practice and games. She learned to keep trying and that practicing the skills would lessen the embarrassment and feelings of failure.

Learning the value of practice and how to preserve through the fear and failure are priceless lessons. We may want to rescue our children because we want them to be successful at the things that they do, but how will they be successful in this competitive world as adults if they are provided with only opportunities in which they succeed?

Failure is needed to learn to thrive. Success in adulthood does not come easy to children who are protected from failure because they haven’t built up the ability to persevere.

Perseverance comes when they have learned time and time again how to take the fear of embarrassment and failure head on and practice to get better.

4. Teach Them to Try Again

Encourage your child to try again. Don’t let them quit on the first try.

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Life is hard. If we quit the first time we tried at things, we would never amount to anything in life. We need to teach our children that trying again is simply part of life.

Help them to give it a go by providing encouragement and support. Offer to practice with them, provide them with tutoring or coaching if necessary — whatever it takes to get them back on the proverbial horse and trying again.

Break it Down

Sometimes failure occurs because they are trying something all at one time and they haven’t mastered the smaller components.

For example, a math student isn’t going to jump into calculus as their first high school math course. No, of course not. They build on their skills. They begin with basic math, then algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus to then they get to the calculus level.

If they are thrown into the deep end by taking on calculus before the foundation of their math skills are built, they will fail.

Help your child try again by breaking down what it is they are trying to achieve.

Going back to my cheer example… my daughter was not the best at learning the cheers when we began. It then dawned on me that we needed to break down each cheer phrase by phrase. Once we learned the phrase and movements that went with it, we could then learn the next one. Once these were learned, we could combine the phrases, practice them together, and then try to move to learn the next phrase in the cheer. It was a tedious process, but it worked.

Not all skills come easy for kids. Helping them learn the skill of breaking things down into manageable tasks is another way we teach them about grit. They are learning to build skills by persisting, practicing, and building upon previous experience, knowledge, and skills.

Grit is put into practice in childhood when they learn how to break down large tasks into smaller achievable tasks in order to build toward a greater goal.

5. Let Them Find Their Passion

Your child may be a wonderful pianist. However, if they aren’t passionate about the skill, then they likely won’t be happy or fulfilled in becoming a concert pianist.

It’s great to help your child discover their talents, but also let them discover what they are passionate about in life.

True success will come because they are passionate about the activity, not because they are the best. The best usually become that way because they are passionate first. Therefore, let your child experience a variety of activities and interests so that they can discover what they love to do.

6. Praise Their Efforts, Not the Outcome

Praising their efforts keeps them motivated and trying. If you focus on outcome, then when they fail, they will become defeated and discouraged.

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Focusing on the fact that they tried hard and pointing out specific ways that they did well in terms of effort will support them in trying again. When you make a habit of focusing on outcome, then failures are avoided at all costs, including taking risks.

Risks are needed in order to become successful. Therefore, make a habit of praising their efforts, even when the outcome is not what they had hoped and tried for, because eventually, if they keep trying their efforts will result in success.

7. Be a Model of Grit

If you are a parent or a caregiver for a child, then you are a model to that child. Children naturally look up to the adults in their life that are closest to them, especially their parents. They will look at your ability to persevere and achieve. Your grit will show.

Your children are watching. They may not know the term grit, but they will learn about working hard, not giving up, trying again after failure, and all that grit entails from your actions.

How you handle life is being watched by your children. You can work on your own grit by reading Angela Duckworth’s book Grit .

Develop a Growth Mindset

Helping your child develop a growth mindset is also helpful to your child in their development of grit. Dr. Dweck, author of Growth Mindset and researcher at Stanford, developed a theory of fixed versus growth mindset.

Basically, what it means is that if you have a fixed mindset, you will fear failure and easily give up. Someone with a growth mindset believes that their talents, skills, and abilities can be improved with hard work and learning. Parents and caregivers can help with the development of a growth mindset.

    Some of the ways that a growth mindset can be developed include:

    • Teaching your child how the brain works: neuron connections, right brain versus left brain.
    • Teach them to set goals.
    • Teach them to have a “can do” attitude.
    • Teach them to develop a strategy when they want to achieve something.
    • Teach them that mistakes are an opportunity to learn.
    • Teach them that failure is a normal part of life.
    • Teach them about self talk: Self Talk Determines Your Success

    There are a great deal of activities and materials online for helping your child develop a growth mindset including these resources below (each site contains at least some free content):

    The Bottom Line

    Grit is not just for adults, it is something we can help our children develop. Grit is more critical to success than IQ, so we should be helping our children develop this quality early in life.

    As a parent, being a model of grit, is one of the first ways to help our children become “gritty”.

    Featured photo credit: Gabriela Braga via unsplash.com

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    Dr. Magdalena Battles

    A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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    Published on November 12, 2020

    How to Identify And Play to Your Child’s Strengths

    How to Identify And Play to Your Child’s Strengths

    As you sit there, perhaps on a sofa, maybe a lounge chair, or while you’re sharing a meal at the table, you glance over to the pride and joy you are happy each day to call your child. They smile back, running around the table they learned to stand up using or kiss you on the cheek as they snatch your car keys for their first (or second, but what feels like hopefully the last) errand using your car. You watch as they take their plate from the table, ask if anyone needs anything on their way to the sink, and then finally meander towards the living room saying to you, “Bed fort after dinner?”

    How respectful! How creative! Such initiative!

    What you may not realize is that because we don’t often think about this in the day-to-day of parenting, your child’s strengths—the initiative, creativity, drive, passion, and introspective nature that turns other people off—are cultivated daily!

    If you’ve never given thoughts to your child’s inherent strengths, that’s okay. As is all too common, you’re conditioned to only look at what they need to fix.[1]

    Turns out, identifying, cultivating, and managing your child’s strengths isn’t very difficult. In fact, much of those three steps can occur during a visit to the park. Let’s discover simple and effective ways to highlight your child’s strengths.

    Identifying Strengths

    Now, I know what you may be thinking: between office meetings, Zoom sessions, laundry, and grocery shopping, when exactly do I have time to become a psychologist?

    I get it. But really, identifying your child’s strengths is not difficult. In fact, a simple exercise usually suffices—participate in their play!

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    Participate in Their Play

    Play can take many forms and is usually defined as an activity that does not bring extrinsic value to be enjoyed—us adults typically refer to these activities as “hobbies.” Whether your child is two or thirteen, children are children, after all, and play is essential.

    According to a report from the University of Utah, play is a way for children to practice “problem-solving, self-control, and learning how to share.”[2] Aren’t those powerful strengths that we should identify and cultivate in our supportive role of helping children thrive as adults?

    When children engage in play, they naturally show how they lead, how they empathize with others, and how they work with others (or not) to solve problems. If you spend time being present with your children during play, you will be able to see how your child’s strengths manifest in the simplest of activities. Seeing your children play allows you to see how they make mistakes, too, which is a powerful indicator of their sense of self.

    Allow (Supported) Mistakes—and Often!

    Identifying your child’s strengths has nothing to do with demanding them to be perfect. Far from it, actually. Remember—you are guiding them to becoming a self-sufficient and nurturing adult, and there aren’t many of us out there that are perfect!

    Highlighting moments when your child has made some mistakes and working through how to bounce back or fix that mistake can be wondrous when they are working towards understanding their effect on others, themselves, and the world.

    Just like parents that tend to focus too much on the negative, children too often learn more from their mistakes than their successes. Catch your child softly during a mistake, and work through a plan to get themselves out of it. Your goal is not to fix their issue, of course, but to build within them the capacity to make a better choice next time.

    When you take on this mindset of an engaging and present parent that is looking for ways to build your child’s strengths, you’ll be surprised at what you see them able to do.

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    Some solid examples of inherent child strengths to look for include:

    These are the soft skills that are being developed as young as preschool and even before. In today’s global workplace environment, ensuring that your child is developing in these (and other) areas will set them up for success.

    Okay, great. You’ve watched your children at the park or tag along with your teenager to a volunteer event and notice how gracious they are. How do we keep that going?

    As is normally the case, you’ll see that cultivating strengths is no more difficult than identifying them.

    Cultivating Your Child’s Identified Strengths

    Imagine this scenario: Thursday evening, and you’ve worked your fourth ten-hour day. Your partner is late getting home from work, and your three kids are all wanting different things for dinner that should have been made yesterday.

    At the exact moment you’re about to snap from the pressure, your middle child says, “Hey, maybe we can all act like chefs tonight and make our own dinners? Might be fun!”

    Um, yes, please?

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    As you settle in bed later that evening and reflect on that exchange in the kitchen, you start to highlight other times that child—and, as you doze, your other children in their own ways—stepping up and leading. You know this cannot be by accident, so what’s going on here?

    Provide Many At-Bats

    Just because a child can take their plate to the sink doesn’t mean they are responsible enough with Grandma’s China set. But when you provide the “at-bats” for children to build capacity using their strengths, you see the road to them handling more difficult scenarios becoming less and less cluttered with obstacles.

    There will come a day, and perhaps soon, that your child will be able to navigate that China with extreme grace. Today just ain’t that day, but with some work, it’ll come!

    Providing opportunities for your child to build on their strengths is a great idea. Everyone likes to feel competent, and your child is no different! Setting up scaffolded opportunities for them to showcase their budding personalities decreases the stress and increases the chance that, next time, they will perform even better.

    Teach Them to Trust but Verify

    Good leaders don’t have all the answers. Neither should you and of course, we don’t expect our children to know everything. But we should build within them the capacity for understanding what they don’t know and figuring out ways to get the information they need to work through their situations.

    You cannot always have the answers, either. So, what should you do?

    Exposing them to the world of information that exists is a good start. Great, you’ve identified your child is empathetic, but must they assist and provide supportive care to everyone they encounter? Or should there be some healthy boundaries established?

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    Working with your children to mold and curate these more nuanced approaches to their strengths will provide them with a good road map to use when they ultimately leave you and lead their own lives.

    Turning Weaknesses Into Opportunities

    While not exactly the elephant in the room, I can’t possibly write an article about child strengths without also addressing the fact that our children aren’t possibly capable of being good at everything.

    Perhaps one of your most important roles as a parent is to decide what strengths your child has and to inspire them to cultivate those strengths using the tips and suggestions in this article. However, there will be a wide variety of opportunities for you to work through the challenges your child experiences.

    I don’t want this to sound too harsh but the fact is, everyone has competencies on a spectrum: you can work, hustle, and grind to develop parts of your personality or skill set to whatever gain you set for yourself. Allowing children to operate with a mindset of progress, not perfection, will help their journey. You cannot be weak, after all, if you are constantly striving for improvement.

    So, the next time you take your kiddo out to the park, attend a professional sporting event, or perhaps when you’re playing cards in the living room on a cold winter night, pay attention to how they maneuver around.

    How are they asking for what they need? How are they offering support? How are they handling conflict? How are they bouncing back from missed opportunities or mess-ups?

    In each of those moments—and many more—the opportunity to cultivate strength in your child is just around the corner!

    More Tips on Developing Your Child’s Strengths

    Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

    Reference

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