11/15/2013 11:14 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The X Factor That All Kids Need To Have

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

Got some chutzpah? Or some stubborn determination to succeed when the chips are down? Is this what Angela Lee Duckworth is referring to when she says grit? Perhaps that's part of it but it certainly is not the whole picture. I believe she's referring to what I call inner confidence. The ability to tap your strength within and use it to overcome obstacles in the outer world -- whether the challenge is a bully on the playground or studying to win a high pressure event like the National Spelling Bee.

In my book, Growing Happy Kids, I share how to cultivate inner confidence in children because like Angela I realized there was "something else" in the determination of a child's success -- something beyond the regular 3 R's. It is this X Factor whether we call it grit or inner confidence (aka - strength, resilience, determination) that seems to predict the trajectory of child's schooling and perhaps even life success.

The X Factor in School

Angela's TEDTalk opens a bigger Pandora's Box for me too. It underscores the inadequacy of our traditional schooling system to prepare children for life. Surely, we don't get quizzed at most "first jobs" about parabolas or imaginary numbers (why did we learn those anyway?). But we do need to learn about how to manage our money, and deal with difficult co-workers but do we even touch on this in most elementary schools? Heck, no.

Our schooling system needs to shift from primarily preparing a child's mind to also educating their hearts. Leading researchers like Dr. John Gottman stated that "even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life." What I believe he's talking about is larger than grit, however grit is a part of it.

Duckworth defines grit as "passion and perseverance for very long term goals" and being able to "live life like a marathon not a sprint." So in our fast food culture she's making a very keen observation -- successful students (and people) often don't seek instant satisfaction like the Rolling Stones song, but focus on something bigger that requires the use of this emotional and mental strength she terms as grit.

So grit appears to be the fortitude to bounce back after disappointment, to focus on a goal, dig deep within one's self to persevere when you want to give up, and move from "one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm" as Churchill explained -- this is the emotional and mental path of becoming gritty.

Growing Gritty Kids

Our conversation is really beginning regarding the emotional and mental state of grit and how to systematically grow it. Of course, I have more ideas garnered from eastern and western philosophies (and practical experience) but this short little article is meant to concur with Angela Lee Duckworth's observation that yes, there is an X Factor, whether we call it grit or inner confidence.

The nature of life is that there are ups and downs, successes and failures, prosperity and lack, hits and misses. -- Maureen Dawn Healy

Such a quality can be grown and I believe must be included in our educational system if we are to raise children not only to score high on tests, but to really succeed in life. The nature of life is that there are ups and downs, successes and failures, prosperity and lack, hits and misses. Our goal isn't to teach children to only score well on their SATs but to be able to endure failures, to see mistakes as stepping stones and to ultimately ground their feelings in wisdom so they can overcome obstacles whether it's a low test score or an unexpected loss.

True Grit

What I know for sure is there is no lack of opportunity for our children to demonstrate grittiness. I have seen too much on this planet to be superficial about our need to cultivate strength in our children --- it's a MUST-HAVE today and I would underscore that I believe grit (or inner confidence) is a key factor in children finding the wherewithal to overcome upsets, believe in themselves, pursue their dreams and ultimately create lives of meaning. Because after it's all said and done our deepest wish is for our kids to really be the highest version of themselves... and if that doesn't take grit I don't know what does.

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