Grit to great! 3 easy ways to raise gritty children!

It was New Year around the corner and the air rang of ‘let-your-hair-down’ in the holiday season. It was at such a time that I got talking to a long-lost friend who had moved a couple of years ago. I remembered that she was particularly worried about her son who was going through the transition as a teenager and had some difficulty coping with his educational commitments. To my pleasant surprise, she was exuberant about his new course and beamed that he was indeed doing exceptionally well; even bagging a few awards every now and then. She also added regretfully that all her ‘worry’ at that time seemed silly and unnecessary in retrospect.

This got me thinking. How successful are we in identifying a child’s natural talents? Even when we have successfully done so, there is a certain amount of hand-holding we need to do. When is the right time to drop those hands and let them find their own strengths? How do we ensure we are not pushing the wrong buttons on them while we think we are motivating them? Where do we draw the line to know the difference between external motivation and internal inspiration? What causes kids to drop midway and what can help them face their challenges?

Also See: 7 Effective Ways to Help Your Child Transition Into A New Environment

Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist from The University of Pennsylvania, reveals in this TED Talk that the most successful predictor of success in kids is not talent or IQ, but a psychological trait called grit.  The same trait is the predictor of success for adults as well.

So, how do we build this trait called grit in kids? Can it even be developed? Or are some people simply born with it?

Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford University, in her path-breaking research on learning Mindset and personalities has classified learning mindsets into two broad streams. One is the ‘Fixed mindset’ and the other the ‘Growth mindset’.


Dr. Carol Dweck’s path-breaking book on the science of learning

Suppose your child sings to you. You hear her and say,” Wow! You have a natural ability for singing! You have great talent!”

You have used the fixed-mindset approach here.

Now, suppose your child sings to you. You hear her and say, “ Wow! You sang so well! How long did you practise to get this far?”

You have used the growth-mindset approach here.

Both were positive responses. However, the difference is HUGE.

When you say, “ you are a natural”, you imply certain things are out-of-bounds for her only because she is not good at it the first few times. Or that she has any hope of doing well in something only because she showed some natural ability.  Many adults still believe that they simply can’t do certain things  because they weren’t good enough at it a long, long time ago. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Fixed mindset focuses on natural abilities. You can either do a thing naturally or you cannot do it at all. That’s it. You are born with it. Or not.

The Growth mindset, on the other hand, is based on the belief that anybody can learn anything, provided they work on it long enough.  The growth mindset focuses on the effort spent doing something along with the outcome.

In the growth mindset, you reinforce that failure is the fuel to learning. You emphasize that her effort was more important than the result. The process of learning is more valued, hence the child will not hesitate to keep pushing boundaries to step into unfamiliar territory. For the same reason, she will not hesitate to show her not-so-perfect side to you. Only because she is secure in the fact that her mistakes today will not determine her results tomorrow. She can stop worrying about suddenly not being good enough. It takes the emphasis off “perfect results” in a learning process and puts the spotlight on “getting better every time”.

Are we saying children are not naturally talented in some ways? Are there no natural inclinations one is born with? Of course, not.  Almost all children show affinity to some specific art or science form(s). The many prodigies that emerge from time to time are no myth. However, what we fail to understand is that even these prodigies undergo a tremendous learning process before they can be called masters in their fields. 


Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, ‘Outliers’ explains the 10000-hour rule. All great masters, leaders, entrepreneurs and even mavericks have gone through a minimum of 10000 hours of practise to excel in what they do. The important thing is their practice hours are filled with new feedback every time.  They look for feedback from fellow artists, writers, history, ancient art forms, Nature, their students, the people around them. When they receive feedback, they integrate it seamlessly into their learning curve. And then give a spectacular performance for the audience. And the cycle repeats. Every time.

But, here’s the thing. Many not-so-naturals have ultimately become brilliance personified in their fields often surpassing the naturals. When they reach such levels, their efforts are shadowed and they are perceived to be naturals. Derek Sivers, Sir Ken Robinson, Alan Watts, Manu Prakash and many more are all examples of brilliance through sheer efforts.

Here’s a very simple, but important list of things to help your child grow up believing in themselves:

1. Identify the good: Every child has some favourites. Help your child pick up those areas and work on an improved version every time.

2. Identify the not-so-good: Every child also has those tough spots. Your child might show a tendency to avoid these naturally . However, gently insist on deliberately picking the hard ones. She will make mistakes and have a hard time grasping some concepts. Work with your child to identify her failure modes.  When she makes repeated mistakes, don’t express exasperation. Instead, casually mark those as areas that you need to re-visit. Encourage your child to mark it herself and set a time for revisiting those concepts. When she gets better( she will, positively), make sure you mention her efforts are paying off.

3.  Stop saying ‘Great job’: When your child shows you her art work, don’t say ‘great job’ blindly and stop at that.  Children are far more perceptive than we can imagine and they will easily see through a hollow ‘great job’ comment. Look up from your phone, pause the movie, set the stove to simmer and take a genuine look at her work. Enquire about the thought behind it. If she says she made a boat and all you can see is a lump of a rectangle, tell her what she needs to do to make it more of a boat. If she really has done a great job, take the effort to tell her what exactly you like or appreciate. She will appreciate the feedback.

In the long run, ’Grit’ is simply a combination of two primary traits – positive self-worth and optimism/hopefulness.  These two are important to maintain mental strength and ‘grit’ through difficult circumstances  and work toward the future. Paying attention to a few things can help raise a generation of “gritty” individuals.

Do you employ any methods to develop positive traits in children? Let us know in the comments below.

If you liked this article, don’t miss our upcoming articles under the ‘Awesome Parenting’ series. 

This article has also appeared on the Huffington Post.

About the Author:

Devishobha Chandramouli is the founder of Kidskintha- a site dedicated to creating happy children. She believes that growing up well and happy is a function of growing up with well-informed adults. This site aims to deliver research-grounded and bite-sized pieces of information on two important facets of a child’s life- parenting and education. You can find her voice on the Huffington Post, Addicted2Success, TinyBuddha, Citizen Matters , Nectar and Lies About Parenting.

Moms and Management Lessons

moms and management lessons

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There are things that you learn from your mom..the first words, the first steps, the first mouthfuls, the first books…Most firsts in our lives are associated with our moms.

Looking back, I realize that Amma was the epitome of a good leader. As I go through the grin

d of corporate training and Management jargon, I realized how amazingly simple she kept it in her days.

Ours was the quintessential Indian family. Appa the breadwinner; Amma the homemaker, three kids, grandfather and grandmother..along with an extended family which was almost always around.

We were a family of seven people. Each of us would have our own favorite foods. Amma knew exactly who liked what and still did the right thing, which is – giving us all the same nutritious food. She would make a curry/chutney/dal out of 2-3 vegetables. And then she would go about smartly marketing it to us. If I liked tomatoes, she would persuade me to eat it saying, ” I made your favorite chutney today. Tomato!!!” . My sister would eat the same thing, but she would be happy eating it as “her favorite coriander” chutney. We knew there were others veggies in it, but she would have stoked our interests so much that we were beyond caring now.
In the corporate world, this is called “StakeHolder Analysis“. You analyze what your stakeholders want, and make your product/service APPEAL to them. The only way to make yourself relevant is to increase their stake inyour product/service/company/whatever just stopping short of pandering to everyone’s whims.

Amma was never the one to be floored by grand visions. Typically, our declarations would go like,” Amma, I am going to win that next year.” She would never be pleased with that. Her first question would be, ” Do you know how much ground you have to cover?” She would get down to knowing what “winning that” requires, and take us through the unpleasant task of writing down the details. She would break it down to everyday tasks. She would take it upon herself to track it everyday. The result: We knew exactly what our positions were. And how much effort is really required for “winning that whatever”.
In the world of jargons, this is covered by a term called “Gap Analysis“. Know where you want to be, but also know where you are- to know how much mileage you need.

In the course of our struggle with our targets, we made a lot of unpleasant choices. Like waking up earlier every morning for that extra hour of practice/ study. Occasionally, we tended to wallow in self-pity. Too little sleep/ too much work, too tired, blah, blah, blah. She would gently remind us that it really was OUR choice. And that quitting mid-way will only make us feel even worse. But she would also ensure that we got that extra glass of milk, that extra lunch-box and that lovely incentive of ’30 extra minutes of play’ in the evening. She would even wake up earlier herself to help us cope better. She ran the race with us.
This, in the world of Management studies is known as “Goal-driven management“. To ensure that your team keeps their eyes on the goal. But, it really is the leader’s job to ensure they get all the resources. A leader who knows when to plug out and play in.

She led by example. She took up numerous challenges and would work at unearthly hours to fulfill them, only because the earthly hours were consumed with caring for us. This made it that much more difficult for us to come up with excuses. Even now, at 50, she pursues music with the passion of a child. She will wake up at 3 AM if she has to. She was the go-to person for everything. I don’t remember a single day from my childhood where I had worried about her not being available. She had an implicit role in everything. She was hugely dependable.
Heard of “Affiliative leadership and Leadership dependability”?

Every month, my father would give her the ‘monthly’ to run the family. There were times when we were on a real tight budget, but I have always seen Amma put away some money in a corner first thing. And she would tell me, “let’s just pretend its not there”. And she would never be tempted to use that, unless in the case of a real emergency.
Are we talking about “Risk preparedness and Contingency planning” here?

Some of her lessons rubbed off on me much later. Like after I had my own kids. I would tell my kids, “If you dont do this, no playtime for you”. Along came my mom and taught me the magic of positive communication.
Now, I just say,” Do this and you can go out to play”. Works like a charm!
Did someone mention, “Positive feedback loops?

One thing she never did was to project herself as a perfectionist. She was cool with a home that was a little messy…or a cooking experiment which ruined her kitchen. She constantly tuned into our needs. She was a master of time management and multi-tasking. She never hid behind the veneer of the “strong and invincible’. She let us see her cry, distressed, angry, vulnerable. She was, in the terms of worldly definitions, a mere “housewife”..”the one who did not go to work”..or more euphemistically, a “Homemaker”. But, for a period of time, seven people in this world relied on her for just about everything, and she never let us down. She was the soul of our home.

Love you Amma!

PS: This post is a tribute to all those amazing women out there who turn our houses into homes. If not for you, the world would have fallen apart a long time ago.

This article is now live on Huffington Post @ Women

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