Some kids bellow in despair at the impossibility of the math problem, picking up their room, or even something simple like writing a Shakespearean sonnet. But not kids with grit. Gritty kids are present with the task at hand; they’re not imagining an immediate future full of failure and embarrassment, they’re working towards their goal. So how do you get your kid to stare down possible failure, pursue their goals, and build that model pirate ship? Easy. celebrate their efforts over their accomplishments.
“You are really challenging yourself with that new book”
“You are such a good reader.”
See the difference? Your child has no control over how good of a reader he is today. He IS in control of how much he challenges himself.
Often we praise our kids for their inherent abilities, the stuff that comes easy to them (you’re such a great athlete, artist, etc.), instead of focusing on the skills they are working to acquire (learning long division, the violin, or kickboxing). Kids praised primarily for their strengths are less likely to work on weaknesses, instead focusing on those activities they’re already good at. And if they run into a challenge, they simply quit, shut down, and hide. And that’s the opposite of grit.
Check out the following Grit Building examples and sentence frames designed to celebrate your kids’ efforts. Try to say one per day to your child. How? Be specific about the effort you notice. That’s it. It’s a game changer and only takes about a minute of your effort each week. They’ll soon start behaving in ways to receive this very specific praise from you and will get grittier all the way.
Recognize effort in the moment, not just when they’re done:
“I see that you are putting so much effort into learning your multiplication tables”
“You have been focused on drawing that picture for a long time.”
Note: there is no subjective evaluation here. You’re not saying they’re doing a good job or a bad job, you just notice they’re working and trying hard.
Connect improvement with effort
“I notice that you are running up and down the field even faster today. Looks like all your practice is paying off.”
“You ordered that whole meal in Spanish. You’ve really put in the work in your Spanish class!”
Note: Again, you didn’t say they did a good or bad job of ordering in Spanish, just that it happened. That way they will feel their value was in the attempt, not that they got it right or wrong.
Celebrate unsuccessful attempts
“You tried to put on that tux all by yourself! You really know how to try!”
“You don’t learn to ride a bike without colliding into the occasional tree. Great work!”
Remind them how far they’ve come
“Last year you hated math but you kept trying, and now multiplication, division and fractions are hella simple for you!”
“A month ago you sank like a stone in water, but you kept practicing and now you swim like a manta ray.”
Easy, right. Seems a little too simple to work, but I assure you it does. I did this in classrooms for years. Kids would strive to get me to notice their hard work, until hard work became its own reward. That’s grit. Best of all, you don’t even need to introduce this concept to your kids. Just start doing it. Like right now.
And one tip that will help you incorporate this: don’t feel like the comments have to be loud and braggadocious. Just talk to your children like you do everyone else, and just comment cheerfully on the behavior you want more of. To some, it can feel fake and annoying if it’s always “Good job, Johnnie! WAY TO GO! YOU BREATHED” We don’t want to be those parents. But if you can merely comment specifically on their focus, their attempts, and remain calm, it’s not awkward—for you, your kid, or whoever had to hear it.