“It’s not that I am so smart,” Albert Einstein said, “it’s that I stay with problems longer.”
While this statement is clearly humble, Einstein was onto something: It’s often our ability to stay with problems that leads to real breakthroughs.
Of course, sticking with a problem isn’t the only thing that matters. As Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center says, “On the one hand, I credit most of my success to my single-minded and relentless pursuit of task completion. … On the other hand, I also credit the anxiety disorder I suffered from in my early 20s to my single-minded and relentless pursuit of task completion.”
How do we teach kids grit without also instilling the notion that life is all about task completion?
One way to do this is to frame grit as one part of a lifelong spiritual practice — to help them recognize that joy comes from dedication to a worthy cause and taking delight in the present moment.
By talking about grit alongside natural spirituality, we can help our kids do hard things while also recognizing that the abundance of life is always already here.
With that in mind, here are some do’s and don’ts.
- Teach by example
- Share tales of grit
- Notice grit in your kids
- Force grit
- Disregard inequality
- Forbid ever giving up
Grit isn’t a magical solution for all situations and challenges. There are times when grit is not the right character trait to point to for your child, and it takes attunement and wise judgment to skillfully discern when — and when not — to teach kids grit.
Do: Teach by Example
Embody and model grit for your child. This is the most powerful way for them to learn what grit truly is. Witnessing a parent try with all their heart and fail well and try again will teach them more about grit than any Ted Talk or lecture ever could.
Do: Share Tales of Grit
Stories of perseverance, determination, and passion are powerful teachers for children. These examples become part of the landscape of your child’s internal world, there to guide them when needed. Use stories from your family, or check out the Uplift lesson on grit for other examples.
Do: Notice Grit in Your Kids
Sometimes giving your child a “grit pep talk” when they are feeling defeated, rejected, and discouraged can backfire. Instead, notice where they naturally show signs of passion and “sticktoitiveness,” and point it out when you see it. This will guide them toward what they are inherently motivated to pursue and what they naturally love.
Don’t: Force Grit
Avoid using grit to compel your child to stick with something they aren’t fundamentally aligned with. Ask yourself: “Does my child need a little encouragement to get through a rough patch in their piano lessons, or have they been resisting lessons all along? Is piano something I’m attached to?” Knowing when you want your child to achieve and perform for you, rather than for their own growth and development, requires vulnerability and honesty on your part.
Don’t: Disregard Inequality
Overemphasizing grit and personal responsibility in the midst of systemic inequality and injustice can inadvertently prop up harmful and unfair systems. Among historically marginalized communities, even the grittiest behavior doesn’t always yield outcomes of material success or social capital. Be sure to balance the message of gritty determination of the individual and collective responsibility to stand up for one another.
Don’t: Forbid Ever Giving up
Sometimes changing course and giving up on something is the wisest and bravest thing to do. Knowing when it’s time to let go and free up time and energy for something new is an important life skill for your child, just as important as knowing when to be gritty and stick with it.
Explore how to best teach kids grit with our corresponding lesson on grit (for members).
One Uplift member who did this lesson said, “Last week we did the lesson on grit and the kids were cracking up. … I like that you have a variety of videos, activities, and dialogue to choose from so we can keep it short and relevant for our kids.”