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Let’s face it- life is not easy! In our lives, each of us has fallen many times and have had to pick up the pieces and walk again. Those who have been unable to do so have failed miserably. Those who have been able to take the fall, and understand that the power to get up and run was within us, succeeded!
Doesn’t this hold true for our children too? Isn’t it equally important for our children to learn this early on? Why then do many of us protect them so fiercely? Robert Heinlein, a famous writer, aptly said, “Don’t handicap your child by making their lives too easy.” Children who are far removed from the reality of failure and the power of hard work might find it tougher to build grit and resilience later in life.
What is Grit?
Grit is a desire to work consistently and passionately towards a goal. It is about perseverance and stamina.
I have noticed children who have grit and a healthy competitive spirit perform better than their counterparts who might have a much higher IQ. While observing my children at the centre and at the schools we instruct in, I found that children that performed best were the ones that were highly driven. In fact, I was surprised at how some of my smartest children did not progress as well as I would have expected them to. There was a clear trend that grit overpowered talent and potential.
The trends were similar when it came to achievements in sport. A child I know started golf early and was considered “a natural” by all his coaches. He was identified as the boy with the potential to turn pro. At the same time, a caddy’s son started playing golf at a similar age. He may not have been as talented but was clearly focused and driven. He worked hard and fought consistently in every competition to come back better each time. The so-called ‘talented’ boy did better initially, but over time wavered and so did his game. Today the caddy’s son plays at an international level while the other boy has given up competing altogether. Grit played an important role here too.
Angela Lee Duckworth made similar observations regarding grit when she was teaching math at a school in the US. Intrigued, she went on to do more research with a team studying kids and adults in various settings to determine success. Her teams partnered with private companies, schools and military academies across the globe to determine what are the key characteristics in people that don’t succeed. Data challenged conventional thinking and showed that it was not IQ, good looks or social intelligence that was the winner. It was grit! Her data also showed that pure talent is not the same as grit.
If grit is this important, why don’t we focus enough on it? What should we do as parents?
The Growth Mindset
Dr Dweck a psychology professor from Stanford University has talked a lot about the “growth mindset”. Children who have a growth mindset are able to believe that their talent and intelligence grows with hard work. They understand difficulty is a natural part of learning and hence they are motivated to overcome this. Dr Dweck believes that a growth mindset can be taught and will help children become more resilient and successful.
According to her, simple things like praise could impact a child’s mindset. For example if we praise talent or IQ, children are more likely to build a fixed mindset. This stopped them from taking on more challenging tasks because of the fear that this might uncover flaws in their talent. On the other hand when we praised effort rather than talent most students took on the next challenging task building a growth mindset.
We as parents need to work at building a growth mindset. Here are some simple things to keep in mind:
Grit is important. Children need to recognize that “the more effort they put in something the better they get at it.” Don’t we see that in our lives?
Gayatri is CEO and Founder of Think Stations a development centre for children, and a mother of two boys (www.thinkstations.com)