The Hard Thing Rule – Kids With Grit – Part 2

Note: Note: This is Part 2 of our series on Grit..
Check out Part 1: What Is Grit and Why Your Kids Need It and Part 3: Celebrate Effort Not Results.

Gritty people get things done! They’ve harnessed a bubbling inner-well of confidence and self-worth, even in the face of failure. They don’t stop when things are hard or they’re uncertain, they persevere. We all want our kids to have this brand of passion and perseverance, but how do we get them there? (Especially if we’re a bit low on grit ourselves). Fear not, we have you covered. We’re diving deep on the first of many endorsed strategies, all backed by a heap of Smart-Person research. Read through and play along and you’ll end up with a grittier kid and a better you in the bargain.

The Hard Thing Rule

Dr. Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance has been viewed over four million times. (It’s only about six minutes long and inspiring. Watch it). She’s now a dozen years deep on the study of grit, nabbing a MacArthur “genius” award along the way. Her website is a delicious trove of assessments, studies, and lesson plans for nerds like me. Dive in, if you’re into that kind of action!

One of the very best activities Duckworth suggests is the Hard Thing Rule. I did a modified version of this with my third grade students years ago. It was transformational. Personally, I accomplished a bunch of goals. My students achieved even more than they thought possible. And one of my students actually learned to read using this method! If you have less than 25 kids in the house, the Hard Thing Rule will likely prove even easier as a parent.

Here’s how you do it:

Everyone in the family has to do something that’s hard

This works for most family members 5-years-old and above. To qualify, this thing must require regular practice and effort. It’s gotta be something where you get feedback of some sort showing growth toward a goal. It must be something that you keep trying at over and over and over again. Although this isn’t a Duckworth suggestion, I propose a 3-week goal to start.

So sign-up your second-grader for that drumming class that she’s all excited about. She’ll need to practice on an agreed schedule. She’ll get feedback from her teacher, and her own ears, as she masters certain beats. The Hard Thing can be super FREE too, like reading a big fat chapter book for 20 minutes a day after school. The goal is simply to finish the book, and that’s quite a feat for even grown folks. Or, joining the after-school chess club can be a Hard Thing. It’s all about sticking to something challenging while getting positive feedback and encouragement from people who care about you. Get it?

Don’t forget to be your kids role model by striving toward a goal of your own! It’s essential to make this work. Want to not be so doughy? Run 30-minutes a day over 3-weeks. Sure, that’s hard and wildly unpleasant, but doable. Tell your kid all about your plan and then stick with it. Let them see you put on your cross trainers with misery in your eyes but a smile on your face. Jog out that door in the rain, at the crack of dawn, or whatever you said you’d do. That’s grit in motion. Your kids will emulate your drive and focus toward their own goal.

You have to finish what you start

Your son wants to take that finger knitting class at the YMCA for some reason? Great. That’s a commitment. Help him follow through on that, so any reason short of your child projectile vomiting means they are going to class—at least for the agreed-upon 3-weeks. Your daughter wants to be a hard-core rock climber?! Then she must agree to scale that wall at the community college on Tuesdays and Thursdays as agreed. For 3-weeks. That’s grit.

Will your kid occasionally grumble, kvetch, and complain? Sure. Even super successful people do that sometimes, then they lace their shoes tight and power on. Over time, your kids will associate the burn of practice with delicious improvement and that’s when learning becomes fun. And once children learn how to learn, that it takes sacrifice but ends in skill, they will be more likely to try hard things again.

No one gets to pick the hard thing for anyone else

This is actually the hardest part for most grown folk. Parents love to pick things for their kids to do and then call them ungrateful or lazy when those same kids don’t wanna do them. Softball is not a life skill, no matter what you may think. Piano lessons are not necessary, don’t make your kids take them if they don’t want to play piano; it’s not worth the money or your kid’s misery. Instead, help brainstorm what your child actually wants to do and what they want to accomplish. They have dreams, too. So if you don’t know them it’s due time you found out.

Now If your kid is 5 or 6, you’ll want to help them choose something “hard” to do. This could be learning to ride a bike without training wheels or how to swim across the pool. They’ll need you to assist them a bunch. Does your 9-year-old want to create her own video game? Great! Start by focusing 30 minutes a day over the next 3-weeks on that project. (If your kid actually wants to do this, try The Hour of Code. It’s free and rad. Amazing skill-building techie projects for kids preschool and up!)

Key Point: Choice and autonomy is key to making this activity into a gritty way-of-being. Your kid’s interests may not be your interests. Keep that in mind. Encourage them toward their passions, help them craft an achievable plan, and then hold them to their commitments with positivity and encouragement.

Rolling This Out To Your Child

Children new to this will require some help coming up with an achievable goal and then sticking to the plan. Your job in this process is to be a coach and cheerleader, not a nag. For example, your daughter may want to be a master painter. That’s a big hairy goal, so help her hone it down to a 21-day plan. She could start by taking a course (This six-lesson course is pretty darn good and FREE ) or simply by painting on a schedule (like 30 minutes 3 times a week after school over 3-weeks).

The end goal might be to host a living room showing of her paintings for friends and family. That’s a doable goal and she will get notably better. Encourage her the whole way and congratulate her on her effort! After hitting the finish line, she may want to drop it and try something new. That’s okay. She reached the goal. That’s grit.

Don’t forget to communicate!

Chat with your child about what Hard Thing they’d like to achieve "What's one thing that you want to be able to do? What would make you feel proud of yourself?"< List what your child comes up with. Encourage great goals!

Here’s a brainstorm of Starter Hard Thing 3-Week Goals. Any of these could be a parent & child project. Working toward a shared goal is the perfect way to launch. A simple 20 to 30 minutes before or after school is a great way to start accomplishing Hard Things! Stay positive and on your kid’s side. Work together toward building more grit. Soon you’ll be making 3-month or 18-month Hard Thing goals.

Starter Hard Thing 3-Week Goals

5 to 7 year old ideas:

8-9 year old ideas:

10-11 year old ideas:

Need even more ideas? Try the Grit and Bear it Activity Book or DIY.com

Let’s Review

Gritty people are the go-getters of the world. Build your grit stamina with The Hard Thing Rule, an amazing strategy developed by Dr. Angela Duckworth. It breaks down to 3 easy guidelines:

Everyone in the family has to do something hard

This thing can be reading a novel, painting a mural, or learning to roundhouse kick like Chuck Norris. It simply needs to be challenging, require repeated effort, and provide some sort of feedback of improvement or accomplishment.

You have to finish what you start

Everyone agrees to follow through. Keep this in mind when your child embarks on their first goal. Set them up for the win!

No one gets to pick the hard thing for anyone else

Don’t sign your kid up for calligraphy or quilting lessons because you love it. Find out what their passions are and help them with a plan to get there little by little.

Remember, starting with a 3-week goal is advisable. This’ll give kids a taste of achievement. They can move toward longer and longer-range goals as they become more and more gritty. Give your child reasonable autonomy and stay positive! As a parent, you are not there to force, cajole, or threaten, but rather to encourage movement toward the goal. You are also working on a goal that is challenging. Be open and transparent about your struggles, but keep moving forward and stay on schedule. Go to the gym, practice your Italian, learn to make sushi, or whatever. Do it with purpose and don’t stop. You are your child’s example. Consider working toward the same thing as your kid to start. Remain cheerful and focused and you’re under a month away from having a grittier family!


My kid said he wanted to do little league and now he won’t go on the second day. Do I force him?

Be proactive instead of reactive. Encourage your child well before little league practice each day “I’m so proud that you are challenging yourself with little league. You are a hard worker.” Statements like this build confidence, the confidence to go to practice even if a little scared or tired.

Your kid still doesn’t want to go? Drive him there regardless. Sit in the car with him till he’s ready to try. Be empathetic, but hold him to his commitment. “You made a commitment and I’m here to help you follow through.” Even if he only participates in the last 5 minutes of practice, focus on the fact that he tried for 5 minutes and shoot for 10 minutes next time.

Got more questions? Great. Let us know in the comments and we’ll expand this article.

Watch for Part 3 next week where we discuss how to celebrate the efforts when they try. Or, go back and check out Part 1 – What Is Grit and Why Your Kids Need It.

Mostly Team Effort

Mostly Team Efforts are collaborative articles that often bounce between experts, our own Chris Sullivan, questions from parents (ourselves, or friends of ours), and our advisors. But we love your questions and suggestions, so please let us know what you think.

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