Here’s the one quality your child needs to succeed

Recent research shows that passion and perseverance – aka grit – are far better predictors of success and happiness than IQ or talent. Here’s how to cultivate it…

A group of kids exploring in a forest

A growing number of psychologists agree that there’s one key quality that will influence your child’s ability to reach their full potential. Is it IQ? Academic achievement? Talent? Emotional intelligence? Physical prowess? Good looks? 

Forget all those outdated notions. The most significant predictor of your child’s long-term success and happiness is grit.

Defined as passion and perseverance in the pursuit of long-term goals, grit is what makes people dust themselves off and try again when they’ve failed. Grit is the quality that is lost when we wrap our children in cotton wool and try to protect them from any form of disappointment or displeasure. 

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth has been studying successful people including West Point cadets, National Spelling Bee champs and elite university students for years. Her research has shown that talent and intelligence are worthless if the people that possess them aren’t willing to work hard and persevere. 

“It’s about having stamina, sticking with your future – day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years – and working really hard to make that future a reality,” said Duckworth in a Ted Talk on grit.

5 ways to help your child build grit

Not sure your child is the gritty type? Don’t worry – grit can be cultivated.  

  1. Teach them to have a growth mindset

Growth mindset is a concept developed by Stanford University professor Carol Dweck and Duckworth believes it’s a key component of grit. People with growth mindsets believe that success can be achieved through hard work rather than attributing it to fixed qualities such as IQ or talent. They’re more likely to be resilient and persevere in the face of failure because they believe that they can reach their goals if they try hard enough. And the more they persist, the grittier they become.

But how do you teach your child to have a growth mindset? Praise their efforts rather than their natural abilities or their achievements. Instead of saying, “You’re such a talented artist” or “What a champ, you won the race!”, try, “I’m really proud of how much effort you put into that painting/race. Well done.” 

  1. Help them find a passion

According to Duckworth, people don’t persist at things they don’t love. So, it’s important to help your children develop interests that could turn into passions as they grow older. Let them choose an activity – whether it’s dance, art or soccer – and ask them to stick to it for a full season. Allow them to work through challenges and learn that practice increases not only skill but enjoyment.

Another great way to teach children this lesson is to pursue a passion of your own and talk your kids through the challenges you face and how you overcome them.

  1. Allow them to fail and encourage them to try again

When we see our children teetering on the brink of failure, we can be tempted to swoop in and help to prevent them from feeling disappointed or upset. But rather than protecting them, we’re robbing them of an opportunity to learn, grow and build grit. 

You can teach your children the value of failure by allowing them to bomb and encouraging them to try again. They’ll also learn a lot from watching you bounce back from failure and from hearing stories of famous people who failed miserably before achieving success. Thomas Edison made 10,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the electric lightbulb before finally nailing it. Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected by 30 publishers before being picked up. There are countless stories of fantastic failures.

  1. Let them feel confused and frustrated 

These emotions are a natural part of the learning process. When your child hits a roadblock and feels frustrated or wants to give up, resist the urge to give them the solution to their problem.

Encourage them to figure it out for themselves by asking open-ended questions such as, “You didn’t manage to build your castle with popsicle sticks and glue, so what type of materials do you think would work better?” Let them get comfortable with frustration and use it as a catalyst for perseverance. 

  1. Take risks and involve them in the process

Rather than shielding your children from life’s big risks and decisions, involve them in the process. If you’re waiting to find out whether you got a new job that would require you to move across the country, discuss the pros and cons as a family. You’ll earn more money and have a great lifestyle in your new city, but you’ll have to leave your friends and family behind in your hometown.

Ask your children how they feel about it, and share your joys and concerns too. When you finally receive the news, you’ll be able to celebrate the victory or deal with the disappointment as a family. You’ll all come out the other end more grateful or grittier than you would’ve if you hadn’t shared the experience together.

Children can learn some of the most valuable lessons in life from watching their parents be vulnerable and accept what life throws at them with courage and grace. Grit breeds grit, so get out there and take some risks.


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