The past many weeks have required much of us. It’s required an adjustment to a “new normal” in that we aren’t at schools and workplaces, not going to playgrounds and playdates, and we spend virtually all of our time at home time. It’s required significant patience as we get used to spending a whole lot of time with the people who live in our homes with no opportunity to mix with others. It’s required an element of awareness regarding the loss we are all feeling and acceptance that so much is not in our control. And it’s required quite a bit of grit as we are constantly faced with ambiguity and new challenges and have no choice but to persist.
Angela Duckworth, author of the aptly named book Grit, said, “Gritty people have a growth mindset; when bad things happen, they don’t give up.” We’ve seen amazing grit modeled during this time in small business owners who have had to totally rethink their business models, considering the realities of the time and how they might pivot to be able to meet current needs. And in those searching for a vaccine, constantly under a microscope and being asked to do something much more quickly than is possible. And in our parents and kids whose daily lives shifted overnight, requiring a new way to learn and live together. Yes, so much opportunity for grit, whether we like it or not.
Duckworrth defines grit as “passion and perseverance toward long-term goals.” What has been really difficult for many of our kids during this time is not necessarily the perseverance piece. Yes, sometimes our kids struggle with this aspect, giving up easily or asking for help before they’ve really exhausted all of their independent options, but the piece that has been most challenging for students during this time is the passion piece, and that piece cannot be overlooked. Duckworth elaborates, “I think that the passion piece is at least as important. I mean, if you are really, really tenacious and dogged about a goal that’s not meaningful to you, and not interesting to you — then that’s just drudgery.” Drudgery is no fun for anyone, especially during a time that already offers challenges.
So how can we be fostering grit (rather than drudgery)? Consider these suggestions and start building grit in your kids (and families):
Help your child find purpose (and passion!) - We are all struggling to find a sense of motivation during these times, and the same is true for kids. It’s not that our kids don’t want to do anything; it’s that our kids are struggling (just like we are) with finding anything that gives them purpose and about which they can feel a sense of passion when their options seem so limited. So explore the likes and interests of your child and consider how to use that to drive purpose.
Encourage your child to speak with others about grit - Sometimes hearing a message from others is more powerful to children than hearing it from their parents. Reach out to grandparents, cousins, and friends to hear stories of working hard towards a long term goal. Read stories about people throughout history or literature or science who worked hard during challenging times to overcome obstacles. Talk about these stories and what we can learn from them.
Talk about the hard part - Talking about hard stuff sometimes seems like it’s off limits which makes it feel scary and like it’s not something we are supposed to feel. When kids are discouraged, try having a conversation about what the “hard part” is. Make sure they know it's okay and normal for things to be hard. Once you’ve identified the challenge, it’s much easier to work toward a solution.
Normalize doing hard stuff - Kids learn a lot from the subconscious messages we send through what they see us doing and hear us saying. It helps them to understand what is normal and how they should act and think. So make sure grit is a piece of that by modeling tackling hard things in your house and be very open with your kids about what was hard, and how you dealt with the hard part.
Grit is all around us and is why so many of us are able to accomplish what we do. Through the combination or perseverance and passion, we make it through the challenging times and keep those long-term goals in mind. Our kids sometimes need a little help with that, help in seeing the bigger picture and the value in persisting. But we also have to help them through the passion piece. Grit is not something that is practiced through math worksheets and online lectures. It’s not instilled through putting up with an annoying sibling or putting away the same toys for the 50th time. It’s certainly not fostered through watching hours of Netflix. But we do see grit in the Lego masterpiece or the science experiment that finally worked. We see it when a kid learns to bike for the first time or creates an elaborate gravity-defying fort in the basement. We see it when our kids are being kids, finding their passions and pushing their limits, and it’s our job to foster that.
Mission: Possible, a project of Einstein Academy that explores problem solving through the design thinking process, integrates many of these aspects, including helping kids to explore that which interests them in a structured way and creating a safe space to try new things, even when it’s hard and when it might lead to mistakes. For more information about Mission: Possible, click here.