Are your kids gritty? I don’t mean all-day-beach-adventure gritty, but mentally gritty? Grit is a learned character trait. It’s something that separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. So what exactly is grit?
The word “grit” may trigger thoughts of cowboys and hardened dudes, which probably has something to do with John Wayne’s True Grit film, which was later remade, turned into a series, and loved by pretty much everyone who saw it.
But grit is getting a new identity. It’s being used in the psychological sense more and more. And that’s what we’re talking about today: mental grit.
What is Grit?
Technically, it’s defined as “firmness of mind or spirit : unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger” 1. In Psychology, Grit is defined as “a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state (a powerful motivation to achieve an objective)” 2.
Practically any article you see about grit is going to open with Angela Duckworth’s research. She’s the author of a book called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, and she’s been studying the idea for years. Cindra Kamphoff wrote somewhat of a sequel to that book; it’s called Beyond Grit. I’ve read and highly recommend both.
Other than compassion and a charitable heart, grit may be the most important character trait your child can learn. The successful people of the world rarely did it on intelligence alone, and many of the most successful people admit that they aren’t the smartest, but they’re all the grittiest in one way or another.
So how is grit and perseverance taught? You can start with a few practices. I’ll explain how I see this as a process after I show you the three parts to it.
1. Reframe Failure
Your home is a safe place for your kid to fail. You should be a safe person for your kid to fail in front of. Mistakes and failures are some of the greatest teachers, if we frame them that way. You don’t have to use phrases like “fail forward” to make this effective. It’s the simple act of instilling in your child that failure is a positive thing when we learn from it.
Don’t always step in and stop them before they have the chance to fail. Let your kids fail. And then coach them into understanding the lesson. Obviously if something is going to hurt them, stop it before it happens, but I hope that’s common knowledge.
As your kid fails, tries again, and succeeds, encourage him to see where he started and where he is now.
2. Allow Challenge
Don’t be the parent that takes all opportunities for challenge away from your child. It’s tough to see your kid struggling with something. You want to help her, but you’ve got to let her do it on her own.
I’ve heard people who came from broken childhoods say they feel sorry for kids who are raised in a good home, because they never got the opportunity to deal with adversity. That’s why some of the most successful and happiest people had the worst childhoods.
I’m not saying you should give your child a bad childhood, but allowing controlled challenges is the closest, and safest, way to instill grit in your kids. In fact, when your child grows up in a good home, that’s the only way for them to get experience with adversity. And that’s important experience!
3. Encourage Constantly
Encouragement has to come along with learning from failure and handling challenges. The goal here is to build your child up, not tear them down. Sure, failing and challenging things will tear them down a little bit, but you’ll build them up 10x more.
Our words are important. Think of all the things people said to you when you were a kid. Things they may not remember, but you do. We can’t take our words back once they leave our mouths, so make them count, and speak positivity into your children’s lives.
As I said, it’s a 3-part process:
- Reframe failure
- Allow challenge
- Encourage constantly
If you follow the pattern, your child will see failure in a positive light, accept the challenge, fail, learn from failure, overcome obstacles, and fully accept your encouragement along the way.
What’s the Point of Grit?
When it comes to success, whatever that ends up meaning for your child, grit seems to be the common denominator that makes it happen. The ability to focus on and achieve a goal is not common. Grit is what separates those who do from those who merely talk.
Grit doesn’t equate to rough. You’ve heard the terms “rough necked” or “hardened,” and that’s really not what I’m promoting here. Sure, thick skin is a necessary part of life, but it’s not about your child being rough. It’s more about being tough, but not your typical schoolyard-bully, fake toughness; grit is a mental toughness. A real toughness.
If we teach intentional living and deliberate practice, we’re doing our kids a favor, and setting them up to succeed in whatever they venture into. Instilling grit is much easier said than done. Balancing love and protection with letting your kids learn hard-won lessons is difficult, but if you’re the one doing it, it’s safe.
We’re all trying to raise mentally strong children who have unlimited potential. Grit doesn’t come naturally. It’s something you learn the hard way or the easy way… or not at all. Let your kids learn to be gritty the easy way. It won’t be easy for you, but it will be much easier on them.
Further Book Reading
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
- Beyond Grit by Cindra Kamphoff
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- Raising Children With Grit by Laila Sanguras
Over to You!
- Do you think your kids have grit?
- What does grit mean to you?