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Cultivating grit and resilience in our youth

We all know by now that IQ is not the central predictor of success in life. Those who are “fragile perfects” or “fragile thoroughbreds,” as coined by Dominic Randolph, may have unblemished school grades and perfect track records but could have faced very little challenge in doing so.  Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck described this as the “fixed mindset.” It is all about looking smart rather than working on learning ability; it is focused on outcomes rather than the process of learning.  More often than not, the life of the “fixed” thinker is easy, and they get reinforced in that comfort.

So, if not IQ, what then can be a better predictor of success? What do our young people need to learn to not only survive but thrive in this pandemic for the long haul?

The answer is the “growth mindset” through the development of one’s GRIT.

Grit is not simply perseverance. It is passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way. It includes resilience, ambition, and self-control. They are related to questions like: Do you finish what you began? Do you stick with a project or requirement for more than a few weeks? Do you try hard even after experiencing failure? Do you stay committed to your goals? Do you keep working hard even when you feel like quitting? Do you still hope and dream of something better and aspire to make it happen?

If your answers are mostly “no,” the good news is that grit is teachable and can be learned! But grit takes time and consistency.  Psychologist Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania is the leading expert on grit, the much-hyped predictor to personal success. Her own experience of her father once saying, “You’re no genius,” has led her to become a world expert on how to become gritty. But grit is not just about perseverance or “staying in the game.” It also emphasizes the passionate pursuit of one’s goals. Duckworth commented, “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.” So, grit is not just simply getting to the finish line but getting up from each stumble along the way and finding meaning in the process of inching one’s way towards the goal.

Parents and educators alike know that developing grit in children is no easy feat. How do you help a child with a “fixed mindset,” who has resigned to responses like: “I’m dumb!,” “I’m not good at this!,” or “I can’t do this!” Here are 5 helpful tips to help children develop inner grittiness:

  1. HELP YOUR CHILD FIND PURPOSE.According to Dweck and Yeager, children are more motivated to succeed when they have a core purpose. It all begins with the BELIEF that they could achieve purpose in life. Teach them the habit of writing down or discussing their purpose/ goals in life and the action steps required to accomplish them. You can also encourage them to make a dream board to help visualize their purpose/goals.
  2. ASK WHATS THE HARD PART?When children feel discouraged or tempted to give up, Lauren Tamm suggests asking the question, “What’s the hard part?” Once children have identified what is difficult for them, repeat the information back in your own words. This helps them identify their biggest challenge, allowing them to break it down into a more manageable task. They’ll likely arrive at suggestions and realize problems can be solved if they persevere and take the time to think the problems through. Parents and educators need to remember not to give the answers outright, even if it requires that you have to patiently guide them through it. Helping them find “the hard part” and navigate a way to overcome the challenge is a powerful way to teach them grit.
  3.  CONSISTENTLY GIVE ACTIVE and CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK.According to Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, our reality is defined by and comprised of tiny moments called “micro moments.” Parents and educators are encouraged to actively catch these moments to strengthen their relationship with children, especially when they are struggling through difficult tasks. Constructive responses that combine the use of the right words, tone of voice and body language have resulted in higher academic achievement and higher quality of work. Some helpful tips:
  •  Praise them for effort, strategies, progress, hard work, persistence, rising to a challenge, and learning from a mistake (NOT for talent, being smart, being born gifted, fixed abilities, not making mistakes)
  • Help children identify the specific behaviors that helped them through their tasks or helped develop their skills and strengths
  • Smile during their gritty micro moments
  • Drop the “BUT”: Do not undercut positive comments with “but.” It negates everything before it.
  • Practice the power of “YET”: When children say “I can’t,” respond by saying “Yet!”
  • Help children discover alternative solutions: Recognize the situation for what it is and encourage them to think of alternatives. For example, should they study in a different way?

It is also helpful to remember that adults’ demonstrations and applications are more effective than merely telling the children what to do. As the adage goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”

  1.  GET THEM USED TO CHALLENGING TASKS and RECEIVING FEEDBACK.Do not water down the tasks just to make them feel good. Have them see their goals as puzzles rather than as problems. Get them used to showing their work instead of hiding it and to being open to constructive feedback (as earlier mentioned).

Duckworth suggests an activity called the “Hard Thing Rule” which she does with her children. It comes in 3 parts:

a. Each family member chooses something hard to pursue (e.g. musical instrument, sport, a subject area of interest, an outreach project, an activity, etc.). Duckworth clarifies, “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.”

b. Everyone must finish what they start (e.g. finish a season, a set of lessons that were signed up for, etc.)

c. No one gets to pick the “hard thing” for anyone else, so each family member chooses their own challenge.

Members of the family hold each other accountable, and parents also get to set an example for their children. The “Hard Thing Rule” combines passion (because every family member chooses what they want to pursue) and perseverance (because every family member promises to stick with it) and helps build children’s confidence as they experience success and/or improvement with something challenging.

  1.  EXPOSE THEM TO STORIES OF GRITTY PEOPLE. Have them read stories or search videos of famous people who experienced failures yet became successful in life because of grit (e.g. Michael Jordan, J.K. Rowling, Carlos Yulo, Apl.de.ap, etc.). Better yet, find out what your child is passionate about and explore inspiring examples of people from that field or specialization to serve as their role models. You can also encourage them to conduct “grit interviews” with grandparents, neighbors, teachers/ mentors/ coaches, and other acquaintances who have worked hard toward a long-term goal. It would be helpful for them to understand that even adults make mistakes. As they listen to these stories of people they admire (including you), they would want to mirror these values in their own lives.

Yumi will be facilitating a virtual workshop for teenagers titled “Grit and Resilience for the Future: A Virtual Leadership Course to be Adaptable Today & Persistent Tomorrow” on March 27, 2021 through Inquirer Academy.

For more information about the workshop and schedule of other online courses for teens offered by Inquirer Academy, please email ask@inquireracademy.com, or send SMS at these numbers 0945.2158935 / 0998.9641731.


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