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5 ways to raise a child with grit

Erin Stewart, Deseret News

Grit.

I’ve been hearing this word a lot lately in regards to how we are raising a soft, spoiled, chronically lazy generation of children. What’s the antidote to the woes of the rising generation? Grit!

So what is it? How we do make sure our children get it? Because if all the parenting magazines say my kid needs it, then my kid is going to get it! I will help my children find this grit and be the grittiest kids this world has ever seen.

And stop.

This is exactly why grit is a lost quality among children. Parents want to fix things. Parents want to mold their children. We want to help and protect and make everything OK for our babies so they don’t have to cry or hurt or lose. They will win at childhood, and we will win at parenting.

But while parents are running around smoothing out the obstacles in life’s path, they are depriving their children of the chance to trip and fall — and then learn how to get back up again. On their own.

That cycle of failing and learning is where children find grit, which is kind of a supercharged mix of resilience, determination and persistence. More and more studies show grit is the secret ingredient to success in life, trumping traditional indicators such as IQ. Grit is what helps people pursue a long-term goal even when the going gets rough.

That’s why the first step to raising a child with true grit is to step aside. That’s right: Stop jumping in to save your child from failure, from heartache, from life. Let life happen to them. Even when it hurts. Even when you know good and well you could tie those shoes so much faster or make that bed so much better. Let them do it.

After we learn to step aside as parents now and again, there are lots of daily ways to allow a child to develop grit naturally:

1. Don’t let them quit.

This is a big one in my home and has led to many tears. My daughter begged me to let her take gymnastics, for example, but when I finally signed her up, she wanted to quit after the first day. It was too hard. The other kids were better than her. She hated it.

I’ll be honest — she was not good. But we have a rule in our family that you have to finish what you signed up for, and she had signed up for eight weeks of gymnastics. I told her she could choose to not continue after her time was up.

So she stuck it out. She cried every week. Other mothers looked at me like they were about to call child services as I watched her through the glass, tears falling on the parallel bars. I consoled her occasionally, but I didn’t let her stop. It hurt my heart to watch her fail again and again as the kids around her succeeded. But she kept trying. She even started practicing her cartwheels at home, and soon she actually enjoyed her weekly gymnastics. At the end of the eight-week session, she could do a quasi-cartwheel and was proud of her success. She decided not to continue, but she learned in those eight weeks something that quitting would never have taught her: She can do hard things.

2. Let them fail and see you fail, too.

Failure should not be a bad word. Teach your children that failure is part of learning. Failure helps us grow, learn and empathize with others. Fear of failure is a surefire way to kill grit.

3. Praise their effort.

Don’t focus on perfection or winning, but on the improvement. Grit doesn’t mean they are going to be the best, but it means they are going to give it their best every single time. Rather than saying, “You did great on this math test,” consider more specific praise, such as, “You really seem to be understanding fractions better” or “I’m proud of how hard you worked this week to prepare for this exam.”

4. Let them solve their own problems.

Don’t rush in with solutions to every obstacle your child faces. Of course, you may need to be there with some options and a nudge in the right direction. Guide them to find their own answer rather than offering one on a silver platter.

5. Foster a “growth mindset.”

We have a saying in our house that my children use when they are having a difficult time with something. They say, “My brain must really be growing!” We talk to our kids often about how doing difficult or new things is like a workout for your brain. A struggle means your brain is growing and making new connections as it gets stronger. I hope that instead of running away from hard things they are not instantly good at, my kids will run toward difficult tasks, eager to pump up their brains.

And really, that’s the bottom line: Kids need to feel free to take risks, fail and pull themselves back up. Again and again. True grit has to be earned.

Grit doesn’t come without a price to Mom and Dad, either. It’s easy to make a list like this, but it’s much harder to actually stand back and watch our children struggle. No parent relishes the sight of a child losing, failing or hurting. But while it may look like you are shirking your responsibilities, a parent who knows when not to help is actually parenting his or her child in a much more hands-on and helpful way than one who jumps in at every chance with a life preserver.

My kids have a long way to go to develop the kind of grit that will help them through life. I know this because I often hear the words “It’s too hard” and “I don’t want to because I’m not good at it” in my house. That’s a red flag that I need to do a better job at restraining my mommy rescue instinct. I need to trust my kids — they will figure it out. They will survive. They will bounce back.

It’s not easy to stand back, and I know it will be one of the most difficult things I do as a parent, but hey — I can do hard things, too.

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 8-year-old and 5-year-old daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her.

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