How to Teach Your Child Grit

“I think I can. I think I can.” said the Little Blue Engine, chug, chug, chugging along. “I’m not very big. I have never been over the mountain.” But the tiny train, thinking of all the little boys and girls waiting for their toys, pressed on. “I think I can. I think I can.” 

I’m pretty sure that tiny train from days of old displayed grit in its best form. Determination. Perseverance. Tenacity. So, how in the world, in this day and age, do we teach our children to be that little engine that could? 

Let’s Get Gritty!

Photo by Jan Kopřiva

Test Taking

Just kidding. The last thing your child wants to do is take another test. So, let’s look at this as a friendly competition. Who is grittier… mom, dad, middle schooler? Your findings might very well surprise you. Our baby boy ended up being the grittiest of all six! The Grit Scale developed by professor of psychology, Angela Duckworth, provides individuals with their very own Grit Score.

Reminder: There are no right or wrong answers.

Notable Knockdowns

Our best friend, Google, allows for easy access to real live accounts of the middle schooler’s favorite YouTuber. Dig in. Dive in. Find their grit story. Share the story with your child. Each year, I show the video series, Famous Failures with my students. Shocked by the facts, they gasp in disbelief. Within this viewing, your child will learn of JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book being denied a dozen times and of Walt Disney’s first animation studio going bankrupt. Now it’s time for you to share your own grit story. Believe me, you are notable to them. 

Grit Interview

Amongst the most significant figures in a child’s life… their grandparents. Whether it be papa, nana, pepaw, or memaw, there seems to be agreement from adolescents that these beloved individuals hold a high place in their hearts. One of my all-time favorite classroom assignments, the Grit Interview elicits high reviews amongst students and grandparents alike. I can attest to the profound impact of this lesson. My own video interview of my 85-year-old dad remains a highlight.

Side Note: the instructions incorporate substituting. 

Get Down and Dirty

Let them practice being gritty. How, you ask? Physical discomfort can teach mental toughness. Let them shovel the snow, trim the trees, wash the windows. At 12, I mowed the lawn while sobbing and pleading that I could not go on; however, my mother did not give in. Do. Not. Give. In. So much easier for me to say now that I am on the other side of grown-ups. Do. Not. Give. In. 

Pick a Practice

Love Angela Duckworth’s, the “hard thing rule.” Duckworth uses the exercise with her own children. In fact, her entire family follows the routine. In a nutshell, each family member commits to a difficult thing for which they are passionate. They must complete what they start. There should be an expected finishing point, and only the participant picks the rule. Some sample possibilities: spring marimba lessons, a season of baseball, daily journal writing. 

Just like that tiny toy train, your precocious adolescent will be chug, chug, chugging along. Tugging and pulling. Pulling and tugging. Up the mountain. Down the mountain. Confidently proclaiming, “I thought I could. I thought I could.”

Renee Davis

Renee Davis is a working mother of four grown and flown kiddos, a 15-year veteran teacher and married 28 years to her amazing husband, Scott. Working with thousands of youth, they both hope to change young lives for the better. For the past three years, Renee has been passionate and privileged in creating content and curriculum for an innovative middle school class, focusing on social and emotional learning, daily living skills, as well as organizational skills. The course has been a success according to parent and student responses. In her spare time, Renee loves having brunch with her husband, chatting about work with her three boys and shopping the latest trends with her daughter. Of course, viewing the antics of their new kitten and elder cat have kept her chuckling as well.

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