What Is Grit, Why Kids Need It, and How You Can Foster It by Jenny Williams.
You’ve probably heard the word grit mentioned several times in the recent years in the context of raising kids who go on to fulfill their potential.
While the word grit may conjure images of Rocky Balboa or Dirty Harry, in the past decade or so it has taken on a whole new meaning that has stolen the attention of parents and educators alike.
That’s because according to University of Pennsylvania psychologist and MacArthur ‘genius’ Angela Duckworth, grit, defined as a child’s “perseverance and passion for long-term goals,” is a better indicator of future earnings and happiness than either IQ or talent.
Today’s mounting research on grit suggests that your child’s ability to work hard, endure struggle, fail, and try again may be the key to determining his or her long-term success and happiness.
So, What Is Grit and Why Does it Matter?
When we are in pursuit of a lofty goal, we don’t know when or even whether we will succeed. Until we do.
Grit is a distinct combination of passion, resilience, determination, and focus that allows a person to maintain the discipline and optimism to persevere in their goals even in the face of discomfort, rejection, and a lack of visible progress for years, or even decades.
Through extensive research, Angela Duckworth and her team have proven that the common denominator among spelling bee finalists, successful West Point cadets, salespeople and teachers who not only stick with, but improve in their performance is grit.
And according to study after study, people who are smart, talented, kind, curious, and come from stable, loving homes, generally don’t succeed if they don’t know how to work hard, remain committed to their goals, and persevere through struggles and failure.
How Can We Foster Grit in Children ?
As word of Duckworth’s research has spread, grit has become a hot topic in education and parenting circles, and supporters want to know how to build grit in children. Although Duckworth herself says she doesn’t know definitively how to increase grit in young people, she is hopeful it can be taught, and she and her team are working with researchers and schools across the country to find out how.
In 2004 and 2006, Duckworth and a team of researchers tested the grit and self-control of several thousand incoming West Point cadets before their first summer at school. The summer program, known as “Beast Barracks” is designed to push cadets to their mental and emotional limits, so much so that about 1 in 20 cadets drops out.
After taking their measurements, researchers looked for correlations between summer retention rates and cadets’ Whole Candidate Scores (a number calculated by West Point’s using, in part, SAT scores, GPA, and leadership potential), their grit scores and their self-discipline scores. It was grit that predicted retention better than any other score; cadets who scored at least one standard deviation above the norm in grit were 60% more likely to remain at West Point after the first summer than those with lower grit scores.
Although the terminology may be different, the Army includes this concept in the evaluation of even its most elite soldiers. My husband tells the story of his qualification to attend the U.S. Army’s Ranger School, its premier small-unit leadership course.
In the final exercise before soldiers were chosen to attend the school, he and his fellow soldiers were told to “ruck up” with 35-pound packs and start walking. The instruction was something like, “We’re not going to tell you how far you have to walk or what the cut-off time is, but if you don’t finish under time, you’re going home.”
The would-be Rangers started walking, fast.
Finally, after hours of walking, the soldiers came to the spot where they had begun. From a distance, it looked like the finish. But as each man approached the sergeant yelled out a time and then said, “Good work. One lap down.”
More than one soldier crumbled there, dropping his pack and surrendering his spot in Ranger School. But those who continued walking found that the real finish was just around the corner, a few hundred yards away.
“Never quit in a valley,” says Angela Duckworth. Indeed, had those soldiers who quit maintained the fortitude to go on and move past that low-point they would have secured their spots in Ranger School.
As parents, it is up to us to cultivate the confidence and optimism in our children that will allow them to power through those low moments. A mother of two, Duckworth told Marguerite Del Giudice, “Kids are not able to just spontaneously grow up to be gritty people without being supported in that.”
So as parents, what can we do to provide that support? How do we teach our kids to push themselves? What can we do to help our kids be receptive to these tough lessons? Here are few ideas gleaned from the “grit” experts about how to be intentional in our quest to build grit.