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Published on May 24, 2019

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

    15 Ways to Practice Positive Self-Talk for Success How to Get Your Kids to Stop Whining All the Time These 17 Life Skills Will Teach Your Kids Responsibility How to Raise a Confident Child with Grit An Expert Parenting Guide to Dealing with Toddler Tantrums

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    Published on August 15, 2019

    15 Tips for an Overwhelmed Working Mom to Feel Better

    15 Tips for an Overwhelmed Working Mom to Feel Better

    As an overwhelmed working mom, you get a lot of intelligent ideas from magazines, friends and the internet about how to manage work, children, and a household.

    Unfortunately, you may still feel exhausted and insufficient at work and home despite the advice to organize, cook efficiently and pamper yourself .

    How great would it be to wake up tomorrow knowing that you can begin to feel better without all of those overwhelmed feelings?

    The sensation of feeling overwhelmed when you wear a lot of hats: mom, professional, household manager, partner, friend, etc. has its roots in reality. You are absolutely doing a lot of important jobs. But here’s the thing:

    If feeling overwhelmed has become your knee-jerk or chronic reaction, this emotion is now literally a part of you that needs your attention so that you can move forward more confidently.

    If helping yourself sounds too difficult, never fear. These tips come straight from therapy and neuroscience to hack into your nervous system. You will learn deeper ways to calm down and feel more confident about yourself, your life and your choices.

    1. Breathe and Notice What Your Body Feels like Inside and Out

    By using body-centered therapy techniques, you can better understand your overwhelmed feelings and offer accurate and practical help.

    As you’ll learn, when you feel stressed out, your thinking brain is not your best resource. In fact, simply thinking about and bolstering your efforts to “get rid” of overwhelmed feelings might actually make them worse.

    The first step to help when you feel overwhelmed is to simply slow down and breathe. This does not mean that you should suddenly take in huge gulps of air or breathe rapidly. That will send you into panic!

    Breathe normally and naturally. Make your breath comfortably slow, extending the exhale. Count 5 to 10 breaths.

    2. Get a Little Curious

    Ask yourself: How do I know I’m overwhelmed? Close your eyes or soften your gaze if you are able. Imagine shifting your awareness from your outside world and sending it into your body along with your breath.

    You might notice the signals right away. For example: My chest is tight, my heart is beating rapidly and there’s a sense of frustrated energy in my legs and arms. Or you might just hear some words like: I’m freaking out, failing or cannot do it!

    If it’s possible, get a little curious about this sensation. Consider that while it may be a big feeling, you probably have other parts of you that feel differently.

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    3. Offer Some Loving Care to Stressed-Out Parts of You

    Richard Schwartz, developer of Internal Family Systems Therapy defines our personalities as made up of sub-parts that interact within us. This explains why a “part” of you can feel one way and yet, you have another part that feels differently.[1]

    Gently acknowledging the part of you that feels overwhelmed and offering it some support and compassion (as you would a frightened child) can soothe your body and mind. “I’ve got you,” is a great mantra to breathe in when you’re overwhelmed.

    4. Get Smart About Your Wise Nervous System

    You may have heard of the “gut” brain or “body” brain. The science of Polyvagal Theory shows that the entire nervous system impacts how you think and feel – not just your thinking mind.

    In fact, did you know that your wise nervous system generally picks up information from your environment before your brain can interpret it?[2]

    When you feel overwhelmed, just one tiny cue of “danger” felt in your nervous system is often the unconscious trigger that tips you from busy but competent to feeling freaked out and exhausted.

    This cue could be as simple as a song on the radio that feels overly-stimulating, a child’s bad mood (even if it has nothing to do with you) or your spouse forgetting an unimportant errand.

    5. Remind Yourself That a Feeling Can Just Be a Feeling

    When you’re feeling agitated, your physical body is naturally on high alert. Any information or stimulation you receive at these times will feel overwhelming.

    This is not your fault, but it is helpful to understand that usually, when you feel like you’re not good enough, it is not objectively true. Your mind may just be creating a reason for the signals of danger coming from your body.

    Allow your body to feel without making a negative judgement about yourself or your life. This technique will help you break the cycle of feeling overwhelmed, then creating negative thought about the feeling resulting in overwhelming yourself even more.

    6. Learn Your Most Common Unconscious Responses to Stress

    Why is this important? When you feel stressed, you probably respond unconsciously in the same ways throughout your life.

    For some, too much stress will quickly create a numb, hopeless sensation. For others, the thought that life is just “too much” leads to bouts of panic or anger. Still, others might freeze completely, feeling highly anxious but not able to do much at all.

    From a biological perspective, all of these experiences are pretty normal. When you recognize that your body’s reactions are not faulty or foolish, it’s much easier to reassure yourself and move forward confidently.

    7. Exercise the Part of Your Nervous System That Provides Wellbeing and Social Connection

    Did you know that you can actually tone your ventral vagal nerve, the nerve responsible for feelings of safety and social connection?[3]

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    As often as you are able, allow yourself to linger on your favorite memories that invoke feelings of wellbeing, connection to loved ones, times of beauty in nature or your favorite memories of pets or places. Use all of your sense to really feel the experience in your body.

    By doing this, you’re activating and toning your ventral vagus nerve as you might tone your muscles. Make a kind of “body bookmark” of these purely content sensations to which you can return when stressed.

    This practice may feel silly, like an indulgence or even a fantasy. But it is supported by science and is important for you to create a strong and healthy response to stressors.

    8. Give Baby Parts a Break

    No part of you is trying to hurt you. But parts of us do feel extreme feelings and carry burdens from our past.

    For example, if you are feeling overworked in the present, it may activate parts of your personality that felt similarly earlier in life. Deep anger, fear, resentment or sadness provide a signal to you that something from your past could benefit from your attention.

    I know this may sound strange, but the next time you feel very overwhelmed, take a breath and notice if you feel like a child trying to do an adult’s job. If so, spend a moment calmly and compassionately reminding all of your inner child parts that you are indeed grown, capable and doing something appropriate.

    9. Address Critical Messages You Give Yourself

    What do you hear yourself saying to yourself when you feel overwhelmed? You may notice parts of you that sound critical or even cruel.

    Statements like “I’ll never catch up,” “Why do I try,” or “I can’t do anything right,” are very common to hear when you’re under stress. Believe it or not, these inner messages are likely misguided protective parts of your personality.

    These parts are normal and try to help you by “whipping you into shape” so you won’t fail, alerting you about scared feelings inside, or avoiding shock or disappointment by anticipating how others might criticize you.

    If it’s possible, acknowledge these parts as protective. Maybe express a bit of gratitude. Notice how the critical voices inside you, even though they likely mean well, cause exhaustion and even more stress.

    When you acknowledge these messages inside, letting them know they are part of you and you see their positive intention, the critical messages calm.

    10. Take Small Moments to Express Gratitude

    Everyone is talking about gratitude, I know. But there are good reasons for this trend.

    More and more studies about gratitude show valid connections between gratitude and lowered stress and mental health. A 2018 multi-university research study concluded that gratitude not only has direct effects on quality of life, but also has indirect effects through perceived stress and mental health.[4]

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    There are many reasons that gratitude impacts our nervous systems in positive ways, but the best way to discover this impact is to simply try it yourself.

    Take a minute each day to write down one to three things for which you feel grateful. These can be large or small, important or trivial, but they must be true. Make this a habit and watch your stress-relief grow.

    Or you can try some of these 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.

    11. Play with Time

    In Gay Hendrick’s 2010 book The Big Leap, he talks about the concept of Einstein time vs. Newtonian time.

    Newtonian time is the clock time we all watch all day. Einstein time is more about what you make with your moments, realizing that your perception can slow or speed time up.

    For example, if you are spending time with someone you love and doing something you enjoy, time moves very quickly. Conversely, if you are doing a miserable job in uncomfortable weather, each second can feel like an eternity.

    The next time you feel stressed for time, take a slow breath and remind yourself that you make time. Time belongs to you. Then, enjoy the pace and do what you need to do. With practice, this little tool will become valuable for overcoming the mental pressure of time.

    12. Don’t Be Tricked by Perfection

    When you’re in the thick of raising children and working, sometimes nervous energy presents as perfectionism. In an effort to feel in control, you may make arbitrary but unreasonable goals for yourself that feel like they are necessary or true.

    Make a quick inventory of every job you are expecting of yourself and your family. Now question it all. What is really important and what is just preferable? What jobs can be left to someone else’s discretion, done well-enough by the children or dropped completely?

    Keep any jobs that give you joy and do them joyfully. Let go of jobs that feel like standards or expectations with little or no payoff. Save them for retirement if you like.

    13. Give Yourself Credit for Quality Time with Your Kids

    Think of the time you spend relaxing with and enjoying your children as a $100,000 per hour job. Very small amounts are still incredibly valuable.

    Showing your children that they are important is just as likely to happen in a ten-minute game of catch as in a whole day at the water park. A shared snack time, a book before bed, a half hour away from your phone to allow loving eye contact with your babes adds up to a lifetime of security and wonderful memories.

    Imagine your child someday saying, “Mom worked hard, but she always had time to hug me, to hear about my day, and to offer me guidance. I always knew that I mattered to her.”

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    14. Meditate for One Minute a Day

    Yes, you may do more. But if you can’t afford any more than one minute, go ahead and sit comfortably, breathe and be in your body for this time. It’s such a simple but powerful exercise and the kids can do it too.

    While you meditate, notice your loving heart. What does it need from you today — patience, compassion, creativity, caring, play? Remember to show up for yourself and you will show up for your work and your family as well.

    15. Guard and Celebrate Sleep

    From tinies to teens, there are many unavoidable reasons that kids interrupt your sleep.

    Here’s the thing: Unexpected sleeplessness due to childhood growth or illness is normal and not easy to control. If you are feeling overwhelmed, though, sleep is crucial.

    There are two things you can do to improve your mindset toward sleep so that you set yourself up for confidence rather than collapse.

    One, prioritize and protect your sleep time. If you tend to wait until the kids go to sleep to complete work or finally relax, that’s okay. But don’t let these activities cut into your sleep time.

    Given the choice between another load of laundry, Words With Friends, binge watching Game of Thrones or eight hours of sleep, consistently choose sleep.

    Two, appreciate and express gratitude for any sleep you get. Sometimes, it’s impossible to get seven or eight hours of sleep. However, allow yourself to enjoy any time when you are laying in a comfy space allowing your body to rest and repair.

    When you wake up saying “I didn’t get enough sleep last night,” you put your mind on alert that there is something lacking. This thinking alone can trigger feelings of overwhelm.

    Set your nervous system up for success by appreciating any amount of rest.

    Final Thoughts

    Life as a working mom is not an easy one. Overwhelmed feelings are natural and normal but, they can take over and cause chronic stress and dissatisfaction.

    Allow yourself just a few moments a day to reorganize your thoughts and feelings using the steps above. You’ll soon discover your calm and capable self.

    Take a lesson from your growing children: small changes create big results now and in the future.

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    Featured photo credit: Bruno Nascimento via unsplash.com

    Reference

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