By Katie Moosbrugger
Last year my daughter was struggling in math. We knew she could eventually grasp the concepts, but she was getting easily frustrated and her grades were showing it. She also had an amazing teacher who believed in her and patiently worked with her every step of the way. When it came time for a big test, we were nervous about how she’d fare. Luckily, the test was not timed, and the teacher gave my daughter as much time as she needed. She was the last one to finish, but the teacher would not let her give up until she found an answer to every problem. My daughter happened to score great on her test, but I was worried about her future performance.
Turns out, the teacher taught my daughter more than just math concepts that year. She taught her grit, which has now translated to confidence. Math is no longer something my daughter fears. It’s not her favorite subject, but she knows if she sticks with it, she will prevail.
Since then, I’ve heard a lot about the importance of grit. Grit is the ability to work hard, and with passion (and often in uncomfortable situations) to eventually – and hopefully – reach the end result with success. Recently at my children’s school, parents were shown a short clip about grit that featured psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth. She has been studying grit and how it determines both academic and professional success. As a former school teacher, Duckworth noticed that IQ was not the only difference between her best and worst students. Her studies revealed that success is not dependent on learning quickly or easily, but on the ability to persevere.
Here is a clip of the video we watched:
Grit is such a basic and raw quality, but not everyone gets it – or has it – or praises it. Sure, we all want our kids to succeed. Of course we want them to score high grades and/or excel in whatever activity they choose. But when the going gets rough, sometimes we give in and choose a different course. Like if our child signs up for a sport and decides half-way through the season that he doesn’t like it, there are those of us who would let him quit (even if we’ve paid for the whole season!). Or if our child happens to get a teacher, class or coach she doesn’t like, there are those of us who might try and switch her to different room, school or team.
Life isn’t always fair, and can present us with tough situations. But if we keep swooping in to shelter our kids from these situations – instead of letting them work through it – we are not doing our kids any favors later in life.
I’ll be the first to admit I am not always the grittiest parent. At the start of the school year, my daughter signed up for her school’s Battle of the Books (BOB) program. She was required to read a certain number of books within a certain time frame. When the deadline approached and she realized she had more than half of her list to read, she gave up – and I said, “Ok, we can try this again next year.” But once again – a wonderful administrator at her school pulled my daughter aside and encouraged her to continue. She told my daughter not to worry about the work ahead – it will eventually get done – but quitting was not the answer. My daughter was elated that she singled out like that. She’s now plowing through her required reading. She’s still behind, but that’s OK because she’s determined to stay on task. She may not be one of the strongest kids on her BOB team, but I continue to praise her for finishing something she started.
I am a firm believer in Duckworth’s theory that grit is a key ingredient to success. Of course someone who is extremely gritty may still experience failure, and that is OK too. But I have to believe that whenever you add grit to skill, talent, and/or IQ, your chances for success have to be greater.
I’m pretty sure my kids will not grow up to be the next Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey! But I certainly hope they will grow up with the same determined work ethic. And as much as I will hate to see it, I hope they experience failure sooner than later so they can learn how to pick themselves up, start over, and work that much harder. All of that builds grit.
As a runner, I love this quote from Angela Lee Duckworth, “Grit is like living life as a marathon, not as a sprint.” It’s a great metaphor to support her theory that success is not dependent on learning quickly or easily, but on the ability to persevere.
Let me know if you also support Duckworth’s theory about grit, and if you praise your child’s grit just as much (or even more) than grades and/or the final score.
Want to know how gritty you are? Or your kids? Take Duckworth’s test here. And for those of you with 18 minutes to spare, here is a longer clip that features Duckworth’s study of grit. It’s worth the watch!