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Growing Grit: What it Takes and Why Your Child Needs It

Growing Grit: What it Takes and Why Your Child Needs It

What helps determine success in a student? How is success dependent on a child’s talent and intelligence that he or she exhibits throughout school? If your child isn’t getting straight A’s, are they doomed to mediocrity for the rest of their life?

This “genius,” doesn’t think so ­– Angela Duckworth, winner of the MacArthur “genius grant” and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, claims that actually, the key marker for success isn’t so much talent or IQ, but the character trait known as grit. She writes in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance that grit is what pushes people to keep going in a difficult task or a task where the rewards are not instantly obtainable. She defines it as, “passion and perseverance for long-term goals.”

Essentially, there is more to success than one’s mere cognitive ability. So, what does grit look like? It can look like the following things:

  • Holding steadfast to a goal over time, even when you fail or when your progress toward the goal is halting or slow
  • Not getting discouraged by failure.
  • Being okay with revising an essay repeatedly to get it just right.
  • Asking other people for feedback
  • Not quitting and sticking with their commitments.

You can even measure how much grit you have, by taking a short quiz that Duckworth and her team crafted. Grit stirs hard work, commitment to goals, and perseverance in the midst of struggles and failures, which are timeless life skills all students should foster. Sounds great, right? The bigger question you may be asking is, “how can my child have more of it?”

Here are the four tips that Duckworth describes in greater detail:

Tip 1: Cultivate interests, develop passion

One of the best places for them to demonstrate interest is outside of the classroom. Ask your kids what they enjoy doing: you may already know the answer, actually. Help them find something which would be hard, and “requires deliberate practice almost daily.” Duckworth herself calls this rule, the “Hard Thing Rule,” which says that every member of the family has to be working on something difficult at any given time.

Tip 2: Incorporate daily deliberate practice

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers deliberate practice is the “10,000 Hour Rule.” Put in about 10,000 hours of practice and you will become an expert. It also means using good feedback to focus on specific techniques that will lead to real improvement. Don’t let your child quit, and it’s okay to schedule, even insist, on practice times for your kid. But again, the first step is important. Practice without passion will not necessarily lead to greater growth. Talk about setbacks as they arise and help your child work through them.

Tip 3: Purpose

Your child needs to be able to find an other-centered purpose for what they are doing and why they are doing it to grow in grit. Help them make those connections. Like in math: perhaps those geometric problems that you child loathes to complete are helpful for future construction projects. Helping kids frame what they are doing as purposeful beyond the self work.

Tip 4: Hope

Duckworth says hope is “the belief that there’s something you can do to come back from these problems or from these challenges.” It’s having the belief that you can grow or change… in some ways, similar to having a “growth mindset,” as Carol Dweck describes in her book, Mindset: A New Psychology of Success. A part of this is not allowing your child to quit when things get hard, or when they hit a wall. But to allow the experience of failure or difficulty as a means of growing in resilience. Help her, but ultimately allow them to take ownership of the solution. And of course, modeling resilience is one way to help your child stick it out in their own difficulties. Share about your own failures and how you are pushing through them. Celebrate when family members attempt to persevere through difficult tasks and encourage one another to persevere. While it’s not easy to build, it is not impossible!

If you’d like more details, check out Angela Duckworth’s TED talk and website.

Need some help finding practice for your child to improve in a core subject area? Study Island for Home gives children a structured environment to practice math, ELA, science, and social science skills. Help your child grow in grit toward a particular subject by giving them the space at home to practice and fail, so that they can excel in the classroom.'s picture
Elaine Ho
Elaine Ho studied Political Science and Education at the University of California, Berkeley and previously served in Americorps teaching and mentoring high school students. She is interested in connecting parents with the resources and information they need to help their children succeed. She also curates a free weekly newsletter called Beyond the Classroom, which collects the top need-to-know education news for parents.