Parents Urged to Demonstrate ‘Grit’ for Kids

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Spunk. Guts. Mettle. Tenacity.
These were among several synonyms for the term “grit” that psychologists Justin Carter and Melissa Johnson chose for parents who attended the Partnership for Awareness-sponsored event last week. The two experts were asked to explain to parents the importance of teaching children how to persevere through challenges with passion, as opposed to becoming frustrated with failure and giving up.
“Life is full of opportunities and challenges and the quality of ‘grit’ is relevant to these challenges for adults and for kids,” Johnson said.
During his opening comments, Carter referenced a quote from NBA legend Michael Jordan on how, in his career, he missed more than 9,000 shots, lost nearly 300 games and missed 26 game-winning shots, and yet he kept shooting. Jordan, widely considered the best basketball player of all time, said he succeeded because he failed “over and over and over again.”
“He wasn’t even a starter on his varsity high school basketball team,” Carter said. “Isn’t that amazing?”
Johnson warned against the “spiral down” thought process that too frequently comes with poor performance on a test or a project. The feelings of frustration or inadequacy on the failure often turn into “I’ll do poorly on other tests” and just extrapolate further.
“Spiral-down thinking isn’t particularly helpful,” Johnson said. “However, if we can work with these automatic thinkings and change how our kids respond, what happens?”
Some parents responded, offering that it could give children a sense of empowerment or control if they see adversity as a learning opportunity.
“Sometimes they’re even afraid to try new things because ‘I may not do it right’ or ‘It might be uncomfortable or embarrassing,’” Johnson added. “There is that fixed mindset that can hold back kids from taking necessary risks. We’re going to have these times where our fixed mindset kicks in and there will be times where we need to put forth the effort and courage to get into our growth mindsets.”
Carter emphasized that grit is a learned trait and parents should find a way to teach by example for their children. He asked where the parents often have to show grit in the face of challenges and the quick answer was “at work.”
“How many of your children get to see you at work?” Carter responded, rhetorically. “They don’t get to see us struggle. So, talk about it. Have a family meeting about it on Friday at the dinner table. I know a popular question is ‘What was the highlight of your week?’ Maybe ask them about a challenge they faced instead.”
The two psychologists said it was important to create an environment where the word “yet” was emphasized in statements about failures or shortcomings. They also said it was key for children to identify when their stress or anxiety was an obstacle and to find ways to reduce it. Johnson exemplified this with a mason jar filled with water and glitter, which she agitated for the audience and demonstrated that it “became clearer” when given the chance to settle.
“We want to help our kids figure out what can settle them,” she said. “Take 20 minutes and have your kids figure out what settles their glitter jar.”
PfA records all of its talks for free viewing on partnershipforawareness.org.

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