November often feels like Heartbreak Hill of the Boston Marathon. We’re tired, yet determined to make it to that finish lined called Thanksgiving break. We’re well into the school year and fall (or winter!) is in full swing. The first rounds of head colds and stomach bugs have likely paid your household a visit and maybe you’ve already seen the first report card. Hopefully, routines are in place for school, sports, homework, down time – but forging ahead takes determination, perseverance, grit.
The development of perseverance is a fluid process. It will mature with the child – and wax and wane throughout life as circumstances and outlooks shift. As an adult, you’ve experienced this countless times, whether you’re a glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of soul. In our house we fly a flag that has the battle cry of fallen Naval hero, Captain James Lawrence. It’s become our mantra when we need an extra dose of perseverance. It reads:
Children innately possess an ability to persist; it’s how they learn to make sense of their world. A nine-month old will knock a cup off a high chair, only to delight in repeating it once the adult places it back on the tray. A seven-year old might try repeatedly to get you to extended bedtime in hopes of wearing you down. Children try and try again to learn the cause and effect of their world. Over time, that propensity to persist can either remain steadfast or diminish. Better yet, it can thrive with a growth mindset (in a Carol Dweck-ian-kinda way) and supportive and loving relationships. It can whither away unintentionally by adults who fix everything, praise innate talents relentlessly, or don’t expect effort from a child.
Recent research has shown that letting children complete tasks they are capable of – or nearly capable of – on their own, giving them pace to struggle with and solve problems, and to learn the benefits of effort, yields growth on many levels. As a parent or teacher, it can be hard to witness, without judgment, worry or interference.
Here’s just a smattering of the research behind letting our kids develop the skills – or “grit” – to persevere.
- the work of Diana Baumrind identifying parenting styles
- the famous marshmallow test originally performed by Dr. Walter Mischel at Stanford
- Carol Dweck’s ground-breaking work on the value of a growth mindset
- the work of Angela Duckworth TEDx Blue talk on grit
- Paul Tough’s recent book, How Children Succeed which highlight research and anecdotes that shed new light on how children identify their passions and find success
Each of these studies point to the long-term value of teaching our kids to persevere in the face of challenge. In a society that values “success” over actual learning, it can be hard to let children persist without stepping in to help them negotiate these uncharted paths. “Success” measured by scores or numbers or checking the boxes, is not always connected to the effort and process of learning something new about content, relationships, life, or yourself. It’s up to us to balance the societal push for achievement with the more human qualities of empathy and perseverance.
Next time, I’ll share some strategies for supporting your child in ways that build perseverance and grit. In the interim, ponder these questions:
- How comfortable are YOU with your own discomfort, discourse, challenge…in general, the “yucky stuff” of life that always passes?
- How or where does your child struggle – academically, socially, physically?
- How do you respond to these struggles?
- Do you encourage or solve? Coach or manage these struggles?
One more note – I’m honored to support a charity that supports students and teachers around the world by building schools and training teachers. Help these students and teachers persevere by providing the materials and training they need by supporting Pencils of Promise – read more here.