The Importance of Grit (And How to Teach Grit to Kids)

In recent years, University of Pennsylvania social psychologist Andrea Duckworth has been studying grit: a character trait defined by consistent, deliberate practice and resilience. While her findings aren’t overly surprising – grit is obviously a very good and very helpful attribute – the extent of her results may surprise you. She and other researchers have found that grit may be one of the foundational keys to success and a huge component of what makes up “talent.” In fact, talent could be rendered useless if it doesn’t have grit as a partner.

What are the basic components of grit

Consistent effort toward a long-term goal.
Passion and preservation.
Deliberate practice.
Endurance and follow-through.
Minimal discouragement in the face of setbacks.
Now that we know what grit is, how can we cultivate it in ourselves and in our children and students? While researchers aren’t yet sure how much grit we are born with and how much grit we can learn, we do know that this truly great trait can be nurtured, developed, and encouraged. Here are five strategies to get started:

Practice practicing. One thing almost all great achievers have in common is their commitment to the regular practice of their skill or art. How can you teach the skill of practicing? Turn it into a habit by practicing at the same time and in the same place every day. Reward yourself for practicing consistently. And set goals for your practice. In many cases, as students see improvement from practicing, it will encourage them to continue.
Teach appropriate responses to setbacks. People with grit don’t balk at setbacks. Instead, they see them as challenges or temporary barriers. But how can you engender this mindset? Pay attention to your emotional reaction to setbacks – and try to think of problems as puzzles to solve. Don’t immediately try to fix setbacks and issues for your kids when they become upset: give them an opportunity to be frustrated and then persevere.
Present challenges. Kids have no opportunity to develop their grit muscle if they never face challenges, see setbacks, or face adversity. While challenges can be frustrating, overcoming them can be extremely rewarding. And if students don’t know how to correctly approach challenges and problem-solve, they also won’t know how to follow through on long-term goals.
Nurture their calling. Here’s an interesting aspect about grit: it seems to appear naturally when kids find a passion for something. You might have trouble developing grit in a kid who hates playing piano, while it is easy to develop grit in a kid who already has a love, whether it be math, dancing, writing, or engineering. While grit may trump talent, grit and talent often go hand in hand. It is much easier to develop grit when there is already a seed of passion planted.
Model resilience. As with many other traits, showing kids a model of grit is one of the best ways to encourage it. If they see you getting up after a failure and trying again, it will inspire them to do the same. If they see you working toward long-term goals despite setbacks, they will see that long-term effort does pay off. If you show courage and self-control in stressful times, they will notice.
Remember: grit begets grit. Once your students have the skill and ability to practice, they can better practice using their grit. Once they have built up their ability to meet challenges, they can strive further and higher.