Turning Kids into Successful Adults with Character Development

We want all children in our care to grow up to become successful and productive citizens. We assume our kids will be successful, and why wouldn’t we? Most kids are nice as young children and developmentally on-track. However, not all children do grow up to become successful (to achieve their goals and live a healthy and happy life).  Why is that? Is it a lack of intelligence? Poor Schools? Or, maybe even poor nurturing by parents or teachers? Paul Tough, renowned Canadian journalist utilized his book How Children Succeed to introduce readers to the argument that success has little to do with intelligence, but rather with character: exemplified through grit (perseverance), self-control, and optimism.  I will dedicate the next three blog posts to discuss each one of these skills in depth, and how we can cultivate the skills in children who are in our care.

Does IQ lead to Success?

Contrary to popular belief, high IQ children are not guaranteed to experience success later in life. Parents and educators put such an emphasis on teaching literacy early, and shaping a child’s ability to reason logically, and while these are important to teach, they are just one part of helping children grow up to attain success.  ABC News reports that IQ is a good predictor of school success, but not necessarily for life. Unfortunately, IQ is difficult to change.  The good news is that character is much more malleable. Children can be taught character skills like grit, self-control, and optimism and our schools should teach them. In other words, it’s easier to teach someone skills rather than to “be smart.”

What is “grit?”

Grit refers to one’s ability to possess the courage and perseverance necessary to continue working toward one’s goals despite confrontation with difficulties along the way. In short, it’s one’s ability to persist, to keep moving towards a goal, even in the face of resistance.

What does a person with “grit” do differently than one without?

A person with grit sets goals and takes the steps necessary to achieve those goals. A person with grit can fail to achieve their goal, but don’t give up. Failure is not an option to the gritty person. When resistance is faced individuals with grit alter directions, modify their thinking to their advantage, train harder, or breakdown their tasks so that they are more manageable. Gritty people don’t give up on goals they care deeply about.

How to foster grit in children?

Have standards and enforce them: Children lack self-discipline.  Like grit, self-discipline is a skill that is learned. By having standards and enforcing them, children become accustomed to working to meet their goals (achieving the standard). For example, teachers can enforce the standard “toys must be cleaned up before a child moves onto the next activity.” To meet this standard, children must persist through forms of resistance: negative emotions having to do with not wanting to clean-up as well as distractions.  Achieving the standard despite resistance helps children obtain grit.

Avoid providing the answers to all a child’s questions: Kids ask a lot of questions.  While answering regularly is developmentally appropriate, sometimes it’s best not to provide an answer, and encourage a child to find out for themselves.  Figuring out the answer serves as the child’s goal, and they must be gritty to achieve the objective.

Focus praise on effort, rather than results: Grit is learned while confronting resistance. If the goal of educators is to help children become gritty, we should praise effort exerted confronting resistance, rather than results.

Allow children to fail: Watching children fail makes adults sad, and it remains uncomfortable.  If we can take that sadness away by altering a situation so a child doesn’t fail, we often do it.  However, this isn’t helpful.  If a child learns that every time they are about to fail someone will swoop in to make things better, they will likely never learn to persist towards a goal despite resistance.

Recommended Video: 

“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”- TED Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth

This video discusses what separates high achievers from their average counterparts, and the role that grit plays.  Angela Lee Duckworth is a teacher turned Psychologist, and she brings an interesting perspective to the topic of grit.

Recommended Readings:

“Grit: The Key Ingredient to Your Child’s Success,” Washington Post, Judy Holland 

“12 Ways to Raise a Competent, Confident Child with Grit,” Psychology Today, Laura Markham Ph.d


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