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7 Steps to Building Grit

by Richard White II May 18, 2017

Sure it's great to have really, really, really smart kids, but having kids that will work hard, long and smart can't be beaten.  They have the ability to stick with a task work past the fascination through to mastery.  To get there they need incrementally building task where they learn and experience accomplishment.  Check the below 7 activities to build grit in your youth.

1.  Try New Things

Trying new activities and going to new places gives kids an opportunity to develop strategies that can help them deal with new situations in general.  Novelty can be intimidating; the unfamiliar can be scary.  The more new experiences kids engage in, the more strategies they acquire for dealing with novel situations in the future.  Look around your neighborhood or stretch a short distance.  Is there a museum you have never been to? A hike you have never attempted? A new park or beach? These local activities may not be a trip to Disney World, but they are free or low-cost ways for the family to connect and for kids to build skills associated with “grit”.

2. Set Goals

Setting goals and working to attain them is a necessary part of increasing “grit”.  One of the characteristics of “grit” is the ability to follow through and maintain an interest in order to really “go deep”.  Setting goals, breaking a task down into parts to make it attainable, these are necessary skills.  Try creating a family goal.  Maybe you all enjoy hiking and agree to hike 5 new mountains this summer, try 10 new foods, learn to do three new things, exercise every day.  Whatever the goal, it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is the follow through.  You could do a family goal or individual goals.  If you can’t get the kids involved, you can model this for them.  Create your own goal and keep track of its completion on the fridge.  Openly share how you are dealing with setbacks and failures.  How to keep going after a failure?

3. Play games

Playing games gives kids the opportunity to lose and develop strategies for improvement.  Many kids will lose and still enjoy themselves.  You can talk to them about what strategies they used and what other ones they could try.  You can model being a loser who works toward improving your game.  If you have enough family members, team up with your children so you can problem solve together.  These are opportunities for you to model perseverance when you are not succeeding.  Many times, it takes multiple tries at something before experiencing success.  Children who can work at something even when they have not succeeded are more likely to eventually reach success.  If you have very young children, they may have very short attention spans, but encouraging them to go just a little bit further than they might have can help them build the capacity to persevere.

4.  Volunteer

Volunteering is a wonderful and free way to engage in your community and with your interests.  It helps kids develop connections with community members in areas that interest them.  It allows them to extend their interests into the larger world.  The act of doing something for the sole purpose of providing service with no expectation of getting anything in return provides an opportunity for kids to experience the reward of simply feel good about providing value.  Receiving money for completing a job can feel good and there is nothing wrong with that, but there is an emotional gain from doing something for the purpose of just helping someone else.  This reward can have a long-term effect on values.  Once kids feel the benefits of providing service, they will be likely to continue this.  Providing service can improve social skills and the ability to understand diverse groups of people.  These are all important and marketable skills that will increase achievement academically and in your child’s future career.

5.  Garden

Gardening is another activity that requires delayed gratification.  Growing something requires some effort and also has a waiting period.  Eating something that you have nurtured and grown is so satisfying. If you lack space, gardening in large pots is a good option.  Tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs are easily grown in pots.  Gardening can lead to cooking, composting and a whole host of other activities.  But related to developing “grit”, gardening allows kids to experience waiting for something; self-control is an important skill for school and for learning.

6.  Learn something new

Whenever we learn something new, we go through a process that requires us to work through frustration.  Learning new things is difficult but also fun.  Finding something that you can learn together as a parent/ child team or as a family gives kids an opportunity to work through some of these frustrations with modeling and support from you.  There are some really fun and free things you can do together.  I was recently intrigued by a website about magic tricks, Magic Tricks for kids, which does a great job of engaging parents and kids in learning how to do magic tricks.  In addition to the abundance of resources available on the internet, check out your local newspaper for outdoor activities like orienteering; new or unusual activities that might be kid friendly are wonderful opportunities to learn together.  Last summer I witnessed a mother-daughter team taking a hip hop dance class together.  It was new for both of them and they had a great time. Encourage kids to pursue personal interests out in their community; cooking, various sports, crafts, religion, pets, photography, art and any number of other hobbies or interests could be a catalyst for learning something new with our child.

7. Allow boredom

Don’t try to save your kids from being bored.  Being bored is a part of existence.  Let them work through it.  When you notice that they have worked through it, help them reflect on what they did.  Help them articulate the behaviors they exhibited that helped them so they can recreate those behaviors the next time they are bored.  Be specific when stating the behaviors that our child exhibited to solve the problem.  Check out more on the benefits of boredom in this BBC article.

Richard White II
Richard White II


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