Building Grit in our Kids

At Einstein Academy, we focus on four core values: kindness, empathy, responsibility, and grit. Throughout the year, we have spent time dedicated to each of these values, helping students to understand what they are and what they mean to them, looking at the Jewish roots of the value, considering how we can grow and help others grow in each area, and thinking about the role they play in our lives.

Some of these values have been easier for kids to grasp than others. Kindness, for example, is something a two year old can grasp (he might not always be kind, but he generally understands what it is and certainly recognizes when others aren’t being kind to him). Empathy is a little trickier, but we’ve found that kids have an inherent sense of empathy and are deeply sensitive beings who are drawn towards supporting and caring for those around them.

Grit, though, is tough (pun maybe intended). It’s not a word all of our kids have even heard, and they certainly don’t all know what it means. Angela Duckworth, renown researcher in the area of grit, defines grit as the convergence of passion and perseverance (click here to read our blog inspired by her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance). And even that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to understand as very few of our students totally understand what “passion” means, and, while most of them can articulate a nice-sounding definition of the word, very few of them truly know what it means to show “perseverance.”

Grit, it turns out, might be a concept more easily understood through experience than through discussion. How, then, might we work together (as both school and parents) to support our students in developing grit? Emerging research shows significant parallels between parenting and teaching, so the same principles apply.

A quick Google search on the topics will turn out a variety of articles that provide activities and ways that parents or teachers could foster grit in children. Things like “help kids find their passion” or “let your kids get frustrated” or “teach that failing is okay.” And none of these are bad ideas. In reality, however, grit cannot be fostered through an activity or a conversation (in the same way that watching a video about kindness won’t create a kind child). Rather, grit is a mindset that needs to be cultivated over time in a consistent manner.

Another challenge to following a “guide” to fostering grit in kids is that each kid and each family is different. Kids all react to challenges differently, and families each have their own context. One kid might need a certain type of support while another child needs to be pushed in a specific way to grow.

The foundation of fostering grit, according to Duckworth, is what she calls “wise parenting” and basically means being demanding and holding kids to high standards, pushing them to grow while also being supportive and making them feel safe in that growth.

A challenging aspect to this, though, is that it matters less what messages parents and teachers aim to deliver to kids. What matters is what messages they receive. Psychologist and parenting expert Nancy Darling created the below checklist to help parents determine how supportive and/or demanding they are to their kids (note: the italicized points are reverse coded, so we are not aiming for an affirmative on these).

Supportive: Warm

I can count on my parents to help me out if I have a problem.

My parents spend time just talking to me.

My parents and I do things that are fun together.

My parents don’t really like me to tell them my troubles.

My parents hardly ever praise me for doing well.

Supportive: Respectful

My parents believe that I have a right to my own point of view.

My parents tell me that their ideas are correct and that I shouldn’t question them.

My parents respect my privacy.

My parents give me a lot of freedom.

My parents make most of the decisions about what I can do.


My parents really expect me to follow family rules.

My parents really let me get away with things.

My parents point out ways I could do better.

When I do something wrong, my parents don’t punish me. My parents expect me to do my best even when it’s hard.

So, to return to our question -- How might we work together (as both school and parents) to support our students in developing grit?

Use the above checklist as a guide for yourself and your child. The goal would be for a child to affirm all of the regular-type statements and disagree with any of the italicized statements. If this isn’t the case, what can you do so that you are both supporting (in both warm and respectful ways) as well as demanding? Once you have established that strong foundation the grit will come...though feel free to work with your kid on finding a passion!

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