In Part 2 of this blog, I will discuss strategies parents and teachers can use to increase self-control, grit, and resilience in their children. Grit and self-control go hand-in-hand. Self-control is about delaying gratification and resisting temptations, while grit is about persevering and remaining on track. Grit is about how to keep saying “yes” (e.g., staying with a difficult task) when yes is needed. Whereas self-control is often about how to say, “no” (e.g., not eating the marshmallow, not yelling), when no is needed. According to Dr. Duckworth, “grit is passion and perseverance, sticking with your future, day in and day out.”
How do you encourage grit, self-control, and resilience in your children?
1. Don’t swoop in.
It is easy as a parent to break into the “mama tiger,” the part of you that wants to protect your children and solve their issues. However, for small matters, resist! Having some challenges to overcome is good for children. For example, as an Elementary School psychologist, I often help youngsters who are experiencing friendship issues. Although I feel for the children (mostly girls) going through it, I know that these experiences will give them strength, thicker skin, and grit later on.
2. We need to be gritty about our kids being gritty.
As parents and teachers, we should make it okay for children to face challenges because that is where learning takes place. As teachers, we should create classrooms where trying, struggling, and taking risks are as important, or even more important, as getting the answer correct. Children need to become comfortable with the struggle so they see it as just a normal part of learning.
3. We need to encourage a growth mindset.
How do we do that? Help your children to see that when a challenge arises, there is always an opportunity for growth, change, and evolution. Dr. Carol Dweck, in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, describes the difference between a “fixed” and a “growth mindset.” A fixed mindset means that an individual has a set amount, or a fixed amount of talents and abilities. Individuals with a fixed mindset often go through life avoiding challenges and failure. They don’t apply themselves. Why should they? Their talents are fixed. Kids with fixed mindsets can often easily navigate the younger grades, but when they face their first challenge in the later grades, fall apart and quit, rather than persevere. In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe that their ability to learn is not fixed, but can change with effort. Failure is not seen as a permanent condition, but rather one from which to grow.
4. Praise the process, not the product.
Dr. Dweck speaks about the importance of parents and teachers praising the process as opposed to the product. By doing so, children will be more willing to grow and challenge themselves rather than play it safe. As parents and teachers, we need to move away from “you are so smart” and instead to “you must have worked really hard.”
5. Change the mindset.
For all these strategies, one needs to change one’s mindset. Certain mindsets elicit the long-term part of the brain to emerge, and certain mindsets encourage the short-term, immediate gratification part to come out. For example, distracting oneself, not focusing on the hot aspects of the item (looking, smelling, and touching), changing the item to something less desirable, and focusing on the end goal, encourages self-control, grit, and resilience. The point is not to be a robot who never engages in fun activities, but instead to have yourself or your children be in charge of their fate, instead of having the short-term, hedonistic part of the brain take over.
In summary, we need to encourage our children to live their lives as though it were a marathon and not a sprint, to perceive challenges as setbacks to overcome, and failures as learning opportunities. Lastly, we need to lead by example, share our own gritty times, and remind our children that what is often most meaningful comes with work and effort.
If you like these ideas, I encourage you to read Dr. Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,Dr. Mischel’s, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control, and Dr. Dweck’s, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Please check out my website at drbaruchfeldman.com for additional blogs, articles, and information about my forthcoming book titled, The Grit Guide for Teens: A Workbook to Help You Build Perseverance, Self-Control, and a Growth Mindset. You can pre-order it through my website www.drbaruchfeldman.com/book.