“She told me that she didn’t understand what she was supposed to do, so she just disconnected from her class Zoom call.”
This paraphrased story from a colleague with a young school-aged child is one I’m sure many parents and teachers can relate to. We can likely all share some creative remote learning stories. The viral story of the child who set his Zoom name to “Reconecting…” and told his teacher he was having computer issues so that he didn’t have to participate in a class discussion is one that immediately comes to mind. If only he had spelled it correctly, she may never have figured it out. From my own experience, one of my students hit on the bright idea of simply telling her parents that all her work on Google Classroom was done, though she had turned in nothing. Apparently, she never considered that I could email her parents and show them the lack of work completion directly.
Aside from their varyingly creative solutions to the problem of having to do work that they didn’t want to do, what do these students have in common? Their grit, or lack thereof.
Though I was aware of the general concept, I first came across this term a few years into my 8 years of teaching 5th grade in Plano, Texas. “Got Grit?” was my school’s motto for the year, though it was a district-wide focus. The idea behind this focus is that talent and knowledge can only get you so far. A greater indicator of future success and self-sufficiency is the willingness to not only accept challenges, but also to have the tenacity to keep working hard when the going gets tough.
Take a moment to remind yourself of some difficult situations your own child has been in and how they reacted to them. I’m sure that you can come up with several situations on both sides – the giving up “disconnected Zoom calls” situations and the ones where they pushed through to success, even if there were tears along the way. Regardless of how many there were on either side, there are some things that you can do at home to promote grit and help your child be more successful when facing challenges.
It’s normal for younger children to bounce around from new shiny thing to new shiny thing. While you as a parent can certainly help them develop their interests in those early years, it’s important for children to pursue at least one interest that they have chosen themselves as they grow older. Having a passion project helps develop the motivation to work hard and the perseverance necessary to achieve the level of success they want. Even when things aren’t going the way your child wants them to, the desire to do better will help push them through. Whether a sport, academic interest, art form, or another hobby, it is vital that the child chooses for themselves, so they feel connected to it.
We all hate to see a tearful, frustrated child. However, regardless of the activity, we must resist the urge to jump in and “save” them from their struggle. Mastery comes only from hard work, and allowing your child to give up at the first sign of discomfort just teaches them that struggling is not part of working hard. Also, if they do give up, they may never see what could have been.
Does this mean you have to stand aside while they get more and more upset or force them to do activities they no longer want to do? Of course not. There’s no reason you can’t be the shoulder to cry on and counsel them through the tears, or that you can’t give them advice. Similarly, you can come to a compromise – stick with the activity through the current season for a sport, or for an agreed-upon length of time for other activities, and if they still don’t want to continue at that point, then allow them to stop. Attempting to push through the difficult time is the important thing, and by then they will have done so.
Every year without fail, I had at least one example of the following two types of kids – the Perfectionist, who was so afraid of getting a single question wrong, they never tried anything out of their comfort zone, and the Downtrodden, who had never passed a standardized test and had all but given up on ever doing so. Though both types dreaded receiving their graded papers every Thursday, the former would scour every paper praying for the 100’s they mostly received, and the latter would merely stuff it in their backpack without looking.
For both types of children, I had to spend the year reciting the mantra “It’s okay to fail at something, as long as you learn from your mistakes”. Children learn from the adults they are close to, so I would openly admit to my own, school appropriate, mistakes, and reflect on what I learned from them, or how I could have responded to them in a better way.
Be sure to talk with your child not only about their setbacks, but also your own. What did you learn from that difficult client call or a mistake you made at work? How did you react when something out of your control made you late for an appointment, meeting, or deadline? Modeling grace, calm, and the growth mindset to learn from your mistakes will help your child develop the determination to do it for themselves.
Whether your child idolizes the talents of Luka Doncic, Lionel Messi, Lupita Nyong’o, or Lady Gaga, there is opportunity to develop grit. Regardless of their natural ability, anyone who has reached the pinnacle of their field has put in the hard work to make it happen, whether that means practicing 3-pointers or writing and rewriting lyrics and music until they are just right. Studies show that children are far more willing to push themselves and take on more difficult tasks if their effort is praised over their ability. Next time you think about praising intelligence or skill on completion of a difficult task, try changing it up to “I can see you worked really hard on that”, or words to that effect, and see the difference it makes in your child’s willingness to take on more challenging tasks.
The best way for kids to learn grit is to see their parents modeling it. Telling them how you want them to act will all be for naught if you do not show the same actions you want from them. Take on the difficult task, and treat any setbacks as learning opportunities. Think about how you are reacting to remote learning, for example. Are you treating it as the, admittedly difficult, learning opportunity that it is for students, teachers, and parents alike, and trying your best to show grace under pressure?
Remember that positivity can be infectious, so try to channel the roles of both cheerleader and coach. Offer constructive criticism to help them learn and grow from their mistakes, but also make sure that you are the encouraging voice they hear when times are tough. That way, it will be easier for them to develop a positive, self-encouraging voice in their head as they grow.
In these difficult times, we can all find our anxiety and stress levels becoming difficult to manage. Hopefully trying these five suggestions will help both you and your child develop your grit and be more prepared to face whatever the future may hold.
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