Teaching Grit & Perseverance to Children

building resilience in children

"Grit" is a term which has been showing up in the lexicon recently. It is defined by Angela Lee Duckworth (2013) as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals." Duckworth found that grit may be as important as or more so than IQ in determining children's school success rates. Grit is actually a better indicator of graduation rate predictions than IQ.

Grit and perseverance are what keeps us trying to meet long-term goals. In many cases, intelligence isn't enough to be successful. Grit is the extra ingredient which helps us reach our goals. It means being able to re-start after experiencing failure. Similar in many ways to resilience, grit is what helps us to try again after not achieving a goal and staying motivated.

The concept of grit has implications for how we encourage our children. Can you remember a time yourself when you tried repeatedly to reach a goal and eventually got it, but it was only after failing multiple times? Often those victories mean more than the ones quickly and easily achieved.

Tips on Teaching Kids Not to Give Up

  • Teach grittiness by example. Try new things and let your child see you struggle and yet keep going. Share age-appropriate stories of when you didn't reach your goal the first time but tried again, maybe even multiple times. Talk about how you set small goals to help your reach a bigger goal and the importance of being resilient.
  • Provide challenging kid activities not easily achieved. Everything your child tries shouldn't be easy. At the same time, help your child find reasonable challenges, not those which are so outside of her realm of possibility that there is no way she will be successful.
  • Remember that it is OK for your child to get frustrated sometimes. We tend to want to shield our children from frustration and that may not be helping them. Similarly, remind children that it is OK to fail—you get to try again. He may not be great at everything the first time, but it is sticking with something that is important.
  • Offer praise and encouragement for your child's strong effort. We tend to praise our children for being smart, but also remember to offer encouragement for completing goals, for not giving up, and for being determined. For example, instead of saying, "Great grade on the science test. You are so smart," try "I noticed how you kept on studying for your science test even though the material was hard."
  • At the same time, recognize that there are times when it is OK to quit. Be it a sport or after-school activity that your child expressed interest in, sometimes trying multiple times may be more important than actually reaching the goal.
  • Set realistic and age-appropriate challenges. Most of the above suggestions apply to school-age children. With preschoolers, be sure to fit the size of their challenge to their age and ability and try not to set up a child to fail.

It can be hard for us as parents to see our children struggle, but remember that children learn from the struggle. Ensure that the challenge isn't too big, and offer support and encouragement along the way.

Additional Resources about Encouraging Grit and Perseverance

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Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
building resilience in children