Building Grit In Our Kids

If I allow my kids to whine about privileges, I am absolutely setting them up for failure.
05/01/2017 09:28 pm ET Updated May 02, 2017

Originally published on Family Footnote.

Entitled. Lazy. Unappreciative. Unmotivated.

These four words terrify me.

I feel that as a parent, I am working each day to combat these adjectives. If I catch a whiff of one of my children even leaning toward this way of living, they get an earful from me.

I want my kids to be resilient. I want them to be thankful. I want my kids to have grit. The struggle of creating humans that are equal parts compassionate and determined is a challenge, but it’s an important one.

A few years ago, our school district gave some “grit” professional development. They presented a way to support our children while letting them fail at times. There is a belief that more can be learned from failure than success.

As hard as that is to balance as a parent, it is unbelievably true. My children live in a nest of cul-de-sacs. Their world has had soft edges since they were born. I often joke that they haven’t even had the peril of a “through” street to contend with.

But how can I get through to them that there is actual struggle in the world without killing their innocent spirit? They, too, may struggle some day, and I want them to have the skills to work through the tough times.

How can we get our kids to check their privilege and gain a gritty exterior built for a world that doesn’t care about their feelings? And how can we do this while maintaining the important belief that their struggles and frustrations still matter in the scheme of things? I don’t have the answers, but I have tried to give my kids some manageable grit throughout their lives.

Street Justice

My children have altercations with their friends all of the time. My neighbors and I try to stay out of it as much as possible. We have a phrase, “Street Justice,” that we repeat whenever one of us tries to step in the middle of their quarrels.

My boys have grown up beside their neighborhood friends since birth.You cannot live this close to others for your whole life and not have battles. As long as everyone is safe, we try to let the kids work out their disagreements by themselves.

Whether it’s how they are jumping on our neighbor’s trampoline, who is getting the next turn, who looked during a game of hide-n-seek, or who got the last red popsicle at our house, our kids are learning life skills. If they give in or if they don’t, they are still learning what is worth the struggle. Our children are so lucky that these are the only battles they have to fight right now.

Life Isn’t Fair–But Your Life is Extremely Fair

My best friend and I discuss the fine line between guilting our children into understanding how great they have it and having them appreciate the beautiful life they are living. Short of taking them to the actual streets where there is genuine struggle, it is so difficult for me to explain the luxuries my children have TO them.

I don’t think I’m alone, as I’m sure even my parents felt the same way. I want my kids to understand that whining over dinner, complaining that they only get so much screen time, or crying because their Legos fell are all luxuries.

Bottom line, if I allow my kids to whine about privileges, I am absolutely setting them up for failure. They will not always get their way in life. I want to teach them that working through frustration is a skill.

Insta-World

It can be hard for our young people to really understand grit. That working for something and then achieving the goal is character-building. That appreciating blessings is a virtue. Our world isn’t set up for grit so much in the traditional sense anymore. We don’t really wait for a darn thing.

Trust me, the internet can be a very good thing, but there were grit-building things that were good for us that don’t exist anymore. Memorizing phone numbers, waiting until we got home to see if someone called, looking something up in a dictionary, telling someone how we felt face-to-face, waiting for our favorite song on the radio, heck, even searching for the rye chip in the Gardetto bag. All of these tasks were little successes or minor failures. If we didn’t do the task, there was no payoff.

Adults are notorious for blaming the young for these changes, but we built this world for them. It’s really not their fault that they are predisposed to crave instant gratification, and we can’t write them off so easily. These young people are bringing their very own skills to this world that are pretty impressive.

In my classroom, specifically, every time one of my students doesn’t make student council, and then goes back out the next year, that shows grit. Every time one of my pupils gets in an argument with a person in class or online and struggles to understand that other perspective, they are showing grit. Every time my students struggle with some sort of trauma at home and decide to come to school and still do their best despite all of the outside struggles, I see their grit.

Building Grit

There are ways to help our kids learn grit. Fostering grit at home is outlined in CNN’s great article Have our Kids Gotten Soft? Five Ways to Teach Them Grit. Kelly Wallace summarizes authors Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval’s advice about teaching grit.

The tips were easy: Teach your kids to make their beds and make them pack for their own camping trips. Small steps like these can help them take pride in their space and problem solve when they leave an important item at home. In addition, the biggest pointer was for the parents to praise the process not the product. Encouraging children in their problem-solving will do wonders. It takes the focus off of the goal, and helps kids to see that the actual gift is the struggle that lead to the outcome.

As a parent and teacher, I constantly question the life skills I’m giving the young people around me in addition to the knowledge. If we want our kids to value hard work and tenacity we need to stop blaming their generation for what we’ve made for them, and start altering the ways in which we parent and teach to make them resilient, gritty, and successful.

CONVERSATIONS