Giving Our Children the Grit They Need for Success

  • I’m bad at math.
  • I’m a horrible writer.
  • I can’t spell.

Have you heard any of these self-desparaging phrases in your home? Maybe you said one of them when you were a child. I did, and I’ve listened to both of my children speak with authority about how they can’t do something.

I can’t can become a default phrase when something is hard. This fixed mindset inhibits learning and growth in more areas than the subject that’s challenging. When our kids believe they can’t, they can’t.

Does that mean if our children have a fixed mindset all is lost? No. The brain is malleable, continually growing and changing. Research shows people can move from a fixed mindset into one of perseverance and growth with practice.

“Grit, a combination of passion and perseverance,” researcher Angela Lee Duckworth says, is a predictor of success. Her research question, “Who is successful and why?” took her into schools and businesses, to West Point, and to The National Spelling Bee. Regardless of where she went or who she studied, one conclusion emerged:

People who were successful worked consistently on their goals. Successful people had grit. They believed they could and kept trying until they did.

How does one get grit? Duckworth doesn’t know exactly, but she believes it has something to do with having a growth mindset. Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck agrees. “For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”

How do we as parents and homeschoolers help turn our children’s I can’t into grit? How do we help them have a growth mindset?

Modeling is key. The saying, “Do as I say, not as I do,” holds no merit. Our children mimic our language and behavior. If we want our children to have grit and growth mindset, we need to make sure we do as well. Here's how to model a growth mindset and impart grit to your children.

Check in With Your Mindset

It’s okay for families to learn how to have grit together! Ask your children to gently remind you when you use the words I can’t. Advocate for each other. Be okay to take risks, fail, and be challenged in front of your children. If they only see us succeed, they don't see the entire story.

Watch How You Offer Praise

The praise we give our children matters. Telling our kids how smart they are, while seemingly kind, can negate the fact that they worked hard and in the end make them feel dumb when they feel challenged. Instead, when a child is successful, offer them words like, “Wow, your hard work paid off.”

Keep High Expectations

While it might seem in the best interest of the child to let them know it’s okay that they aren’t good at a subject, when we lower our expectations or “dumb” down the work, we affirm to them that they can’t. I’ve found it isn’t the subject matter that keeps kids from learning; it’s how the subject matter is taught. Instead of lowering our expectations, keep them high and find new ways to help kids learn.

Talk to Kids About the Difference Between a Fixed and Growth Mindset

Giving Our Children the Grit They Need for SuccessBring these words into your home. Kids need to know what having a fixed and growth mindset looks like so they can feel and see the difference between feeling stuck and moving forward.

Play is one of the best ways to teach. Act out scenarios as a family where one member has a fixed mindset about something silly, and another one is willing to give it a try.

Poignant examples are helpful teaching tools too. Point out situations where your children have had a growth mindset. Point out cases where you have had a fixed mindset and how it held you back.

Set Goals

People who have a growth mindset set goals and work to meet them. While curriculum, parents, and teachers often set goals for children, it’s important children set goals for themselves. Spend time talking with your kids about what they hope to achieve. Post their goals somewhere they can see them, track progress, and revisit them often.

Redefine Failure

Failure lives in a fixed mindset. The only way a person truly fails is by giving up. We learn by practicing and making mistakes. While it can be frustrating to feel challenged, not getting something right the first or even fifth time does not mean we fail. It means we have to keep trying.

When our kids grab onto a fixed mindset, it’s our job to gently push them through I can’t into a place of I can. The objective is not perfection; it’s perseverance. Helping our kids embrace grit and a growth mindset won’t eliminate challenges or make their lives perfect, but it will help them see that goals and dreams are achieved when we keep trying.

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About the Author

Kelly Sage of Curiosity Encouraged

Kelly left teaching middle and high school English to homeschool her children and reclaim how she and her family spent their time. Followers of interest-led learning, her family's days rarely look the same, but they tend to include a lot of books, art supplies, and time outside.

Kelly facilitates local writing circles for women and children and blogs about nurturing the love of learning on her blog, Curiosity Encouraged. She loves to journal, read memoirs, hike, and travel. She seeks quiet mornings and good coffee daily.