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“Gritty people have a growth mindset; when bad things happen, they don’t give up.”
- Angela Duckworth
Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk on “grit” as one of the most important predictors of success went massively viral in 2013. Her 2016 book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance was an instant New York Times bestseller.
By now, Duckworth’s concept has made its way into national education policy and public schools in California even rate schools and mark students on grit.
But despite grit’s prevalence, Duckworth says the concept is often misunderstood. Duckworth’s definition of grit is “passion and perseverance toward long-term goals,” but she says people often overlook the passion part.
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.
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Perseverance and especially passion may sound unteachable but they aren’t. It just takes time and consistency. Repeat the following activities with your child to help them develop their inner resilience, putting them on the path to happiness and success.
1. Help Your Child Find Purpose
A study by psychology researchers including Dr. Carol Dweck and Dr. David Yeager indicates students are more motivated to succeed when they have a core purpose.
If your child is younger, try a simpler, more engaging approach like a dream board. Also called vision boards, dream boards are a powerful visualisation tool to help children create and achieve their goals.
On a sheet of mount board, your child posts images or text that reflect their passions, hopes, and goals. Visualising what they want to achieve will help your child develop a positive mental attitude and focus on their passion and purpose.
You can read more about using dream boards to motivate your child here.
Creating a dream board fosters grit because it will help your child celebrate their passions and link those passions to specific goals they would like to achieve. Plus, it’s a fun activity for the two of you to do together!
2. Encourage Your Child to Conduct “Grit Interviews”
Your child can interview grandparents, neighbours, or other acquaintances who have worked hard toward a long-term goal.
You can share your resiliency stories with your child as well. It’s helpful for children to understand that even adults can make mistakes, but then try again and ultimately solve a problem or reach a goal.
As your child hears stories about grit from people they admire (including you), they'll want to mirror these values in their own life.
3. Share Stories of Resilient Famous People
Your child can also learn from stories about famous people who used passion and perseverance to reach long-term goals, often with failures or setbacks along the way.
Stories like Michael Jordan not making his Varsity team, or J.K. Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter being rejected almost a dozen times, will show your child perseverance through failure can lead to great success.
If any of these famous people had given up when they experienced failure, they would never have achieved their fame and success. “Luck” is an illusion; success is about hard work and persistence toward something you’re passionate about.
The Famous Failures Kit has examples of famous people experiencing and responding to failure. The kit guides you through reading and discussing the stories in order to teach your child the meaning of grit—and how to use it in their own life.
4. Teach About Grit Through Nature
We can certainly learn lessons about perseverance from nature. Just think about the Tupac Shakur poem “The Rose That Grew from Concrete.”
The poem reads:
You can read this poem with your child to discuss what represents the concrete represents in their lives. What are their obstacles? Next, discuss how your child can “breakthrough concrete” like the rose. What can they do to overcome their obstacles and reach their dreams?
This activity is a fun way to practise components of Gabriele Oettingen’s WOOP strategy and help your child develop grit. You can also show your child pictures or real-life examples of the resilience and perseverance of nature, then connect these images to how your child lives their own life.
5. Teach About Grit Through Literature
Similarly, you can help your child learn about grit by reading relevant books, poems or short stories.
For instance, read stories of perseverance such as “The Little Engine That Could” or Chelsea Clinton's "She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History".
Use stories like “The Hugging Tree: A Story About Resilience” by Jill Neimark. It tells the story of a tree that grows alone on a cliff. The tree faces many challenges, but it continues to stand strong, find the positive, and ultimately help others with their own challenges.
These are fun, colourful stories your child will request again and again! As you read these stories, you can also help your child form connections to their own life. Talk about their challenges, their response to failures, and how to live their own life with grit.
You will find more book suggestions in our Top 85 Growth Mindset Books for Children and Adults printable list available in the Growth Mindset Printables Kit.
6. Ask, “What’s the Hard Part?”
When your child feels discouraged or tempted to give up, try asking them, “What’s the hard (difficult) part?”
Once your child has identified what is difficult for them, repeat the information back in your own words. This helps your child identify their biggest challenge, allowing them to break it down into a more manageable task.
After the two of you have identified the challenge, ask your child what they could do to fix or overcome “the hard part.” They'll likely arrive at an answer and realise problems can be solved if they persevere and takes the time to think the problems through.
Don’t give your child the answer, even if you have to guide them to it.
It’s so much more powerful for a child to be able to deal with adversity and overcome it. What the child takes from that experience is, ‘Hey, I can solve things.’
Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed
Helping your child find “the hard part” and navigate a way to overcome the challenge is a powerful way to teach them about grit.
Have your child practise problem-solving techniques using the 5 Problem-Solving Step printable cards from the Growth Mindset Activity Kit.
7. Follow the “Hard Thing Rule”
Angela Duckworth teaches grit to her own two daughters using the “Hard Thing Rule.” Duckworth’s rule has three parts:
- Each member of the family has to do something difficult, "something that requires practice, something where you're going to get feedback telling you how you can get better, and you're going to get right back in there and try again and again."
- You must finish what you start. Duckworth requires her children to finish a season, a set of lessons that were signed up for, etc.
- No one gets to pick the “hard thing” for anyone else, so your child chooses their own challenge.
This is a rule your whole family can follow, holding each other accountable, and setting an example for your child. The “hard thing” can be an instrument, a sport, a subject or area of interest, an activity, and so on.
The “Hard Thing Rule” combines passion (because you choose what to pursue) and perseverance (because you promise to stick with it), and your child will experience success or improvement with something challenging. This will build their confidence and teach them the benefits of grit.
8. Try the “Grit Pie” Exercise
This activity will work best with an older child, but a young child could complete it with guidance.
Amy Lyon, a fifth-grade teacher from New Hampshire, created an entire grit curriculum based on the book The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania professor and co-founder of Positive Psychology. Lyon uses the “grit pie” activity with her students to teach optimism and help them become aware of their thoughts.
The pie represents an obstacle the student is facing. Each slice of pie symbolises a cause of the problem. For each slice, students analyse whether their thoughts about the problem are permanent (“I’ll never be good at maths”) or temporary (“My friend was talking too much and distracting me”) and whether they blame themselves (“I should have asked the teacher for help when I didn’t understand”) or others (“The teacher didn’t teach us this material!”).
Hopefully, most of your child’s problems will be categorised as “temporary” and they'll take at least some responsibility for causing the problem.
Point out these issues are temporary and within your child’s control. How can your child make positive changes to resolve them? Completing this activity will show your child the majority of obstacles can be overcome with problem-solving and perseverance.
9. Share Your Passions
Lastly, you can inspire your child to find hobbies and interests they're passionate about by enthusiastically sharing your own passions.
Show your child your excitement about activities outside of working and parenting and devote time to developing these passions. Not only will this make you happier and more fulfilled, but it’ll also set a great example for your child about pursuing your passions.
This will also encourage your child to openly share their own passions with you. Be supportive and interested in whatever your child is passionate about, and provide resources to help them explore and develop these interests.
It’s encouraging to know that grit, one of the most important indicators of success, is entirely teachable. At the same time, teaching your child “passion and perseverance toward long-term goals” sounds like a difficult task.
You can start by consistently repeating the following activities:
- Help your child find dreams, goals, and a core purpose in life.
- Encourage your child to conduct “grit interviews” with adults in their life.
- Teach your child about resilience through stories of famous people who failed before finding success.
- Read the poem “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” and teach your child about grit by finding examples in nature.
- Read stories about resilience and help your child connect them to his own life.
- Ask your child, “What’s the hard part?” and help them problem-solve when they want to give up.
- Follow Duckworth’s “Hard Thing Rule” as a family.
- Try Amy Lyon’s exercise “Grit Pie” to show your child that obstacles can be overcome.
- Share your own passions with your child and pursue them regularly.
These simple activities can help your child build the passion and perseverance they need to succeed in school and life.