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How to Raise Gritty Kids

how to raise gritty kids
Image Source: Pinterest – TED Talks

Ever since Angela Lee Duckworth’s talk on TED about Grit being the key to success, I’ve been seeing more and more articles on the need to raise gritty kids. While the idea is great, putting it into practice is not quite that simple. Duckworth herself is not entirely certain if grit can be taught, though there are some who are more optimistic. We’re trying to stay in the latter camp – at the very least, it can’t hurt to try.

How do you inculcate grittiness?

According to Margaret Perlis, there are 5 characteristics of grit:

  1. Courage
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Follow Through
  4. Resilience
  5. Striving for Excellence

And if we focus on developing these five characteristics, perhaps we can teach our children to become more gritty.

Image Source: Pinterest – Poster Lessons

Raising Kids with Courage

Courage, in this sense, refers to the ability to face the fear of failure. We can do this by:

  • doing something that scares us everyday
  • participating in competitive sports

Raising Kids who are Conscientiousness

In a previous post about conscientiousness, we identified that conscientiousness can be taught by teaching children responsibility, diligence, and helpfulness. Margaret Perlis further defined it as being achievement oriented rather than just being dependable. In other words, you need to commit to go for gold rather than just showing up for practice – while both examples demonstrate conscientiousness, the former is achievement oriented while the latter is dependable.

Raising Kids with Follow Through

Being able to set long term goals and staying on to see them through. There is some overlap here with conscientiousness because one way to teach children to follow through is to teach them responsibility. Here are 6 ways to teach children responsibility from Empowering Parents:

  • Start as early as possible: give your children responsibilities for things that involve them, e.g. packing up their own toys. They should learn that they’re individuals and that they have their own individual responsibilities.
  • Identify responsibilities and use responsible language: Connect praise and rewards with responsibility so that your child learns to associate the connection. E.g. “You know, it’s your responsibility to do that and I like that you did it.” Or “You know, I’m rewarding you because you met your responsibility.”
  • The Power of Example: As they say – children will do what you do and not what you say, so it’s important to meet your own responsibilities and tell your child when you do so. For example, if your child asks, “Where are you going, Mommy?” Say, “I’m going to work. That’s my responsibility.”
  • Teach and Coach Responsibility: Talk to your children about responsibility and what it means. Responsibilities are like commitments or promises – they’re the things you have to do, the things that are your job, and the things you’re involved in, where other people are depending on you. It is important also to coach your children about meeting their responsibilities.
  • Accountability: Responsibility should be associated with both rewards and consequences. Rewards don’t necessarily have to be about buying things or spending money, they may be opportunities to spend time doing something your children really enjoy. Consequences may include withholding electronics, extra chores, or extra work.
  • Tell Your Kids What You’ll be Doing Differently: For example, you can say, “From now on, I’m going to start to point out how we meet responsibilities around here. So, you’ll have a clearer idea of how many responsibilities I meet and why I think it’s important that you meet your responsibilities.” Have a talk with older children about why meeting responsibilities is important to success in life. Translate it so it means something to them – “All the things that I buy for you as a parent, you’re going to have to get for yourself someday. And in order to do that, you’re going to have to be able to meet responsibilities just like I do. And if I didn’t meet my responsibilities of going to work and doing a good job, I would not be able to give you those things.” Explain the idea with simple, straight talk that progresses from “This is why responsibilities are important” to “here’s what’s going to happen if you do—or if you don’t—achieve them.”

There is also another great article on teaching children follow through on the Huffington Post by Dr Jim Taylor.

Raising Kids with Resilience

Resilience is a dynamic combination of optimism, creativity, and confidence, which together empower one to reappraise situations and regulate emotion – a behavior many social scientists refer to as “hardiness” or “grit” … “hardiness” is comprised of three tenents:

  1. the belief one can find meaningful purpose in life
  2. the belief that one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events
  3. the belief that positive and negative experiences will lead to learning and growth.


We’ve written previously about raising resilient children in an older post – how do we raise resilient, persistent children? – but you should also read what Dr Justin Coulson has to say about raising resilient children. Here it is in a nutshell:

A study of 16000 Australian children revealed that “children who were most resilient almost universally agreed with two statements that children with the lowest resilience disagreed with”. These were the statements:

  • I have a parent who cares about me
  • I have a parent who listens to me

Therefore, if we want to raise resilient children, we should focus on helping our children feel cared for and heard. Dr Coulson offers 18 ways we can do this:

1. Stop saying “I’m busy” – spend time with your children.

2. Turn off your smartphone – be really present when you speak with your children (as they say in FISH! Philosophy – Be There).

3. Turn off screens – spend time together without any screens.

4. Make eye contact when you talk to your children.

5. Listen – stop whatever you’re doing and really listen!

6. Bed time is best – 5 important things to say to your child at bedtime:

Image Source: Kidspot

7. Give hugs – research shows that hugs help fight illness, stress and depression because hugs can trigger the release of oxytocin (also known as the love hormone) which helps strengthen social bonds.

Image Source: Raw for Beauty

8. Stay calm – our jobs as parents is to stay calmer than our children because it helps them learn to regulate their behaviour.

9. One on one time is crucial – go on regular “dates” with each of your children.

10. Smile – never underestimate the power of a smile, they are contagious, they elevate mood, and they are therapeutic.

When your baby sees you smile, it releases chemicals in her body. This makes her feel good – and the chemicals (called opiates) also help her brain grow. – Raising Children

11. Make time to do nothing so our children know they can approach us.

12. Respond to challenging behaviour with maturity – remember that challenging behaviour comes from unmet needs and it can be a chance to get close to our children and build our relationships.

13. Leave love notes – in lunch boxes, under the pillow, or an email because written messages speak louder than words.

14. Offer autonomy – while it is important to set rules and limits, children feel loved when they are given choices and a chance to decide for themselves.

15. Get down on the floor with them and play – e.g. board games, wrestling, jumping on the trampoline. Remember, families that play together stay together.

“Play is children’s main way of communicating. …. Playing is connection. … Boys especially need empathy and emotional connection. You can’t communicate to them that what they want to play is stupid and violent and antisocial, and then expect them to talk to you about their inner feelings.” – Lawrence Cohen, Playful Parenting

16. Save their presents – it shows your child that you treasure their thoughtfulness and kind gifts.

17. Tell them you love them – every child loves to hear this from their parents even if they act like it doesn’t matter.

18. Show them you love them – actions speak louder than words.

Raising Kids who Strive for Excellence

Gritty individuals strive for excellence – which should be differentiated from perfection:

Excellence is an attitude, not an endgame. The word excellence is derived from the Greek word Arête which is bound with the notion of fulfillment of purpose or function and is closely associated with virtue. It is far more forgiving, allowing and embracing failure and vulnerability on the ongoing quest for improvement. It allows for disappointment, and  prioritizes progress over perfection. Like excellence, grit is an attitude about, to paraphrase Tennyson…seeking, striving, finding, and never yielding. – Forbes

Image Source: Pinterest – Alicia and Andy Todd

4 Ways to Guide Your Child to Excellence – Babble:

  1. Believe in your child because your child will live up (or down) to your expectations (The rule of expectations – the impact of suggestion)
  2. Support don’t smother – set high expectations but follow your child’s lead. “Early exposure to resources is wonderful, as is setting high expectations and demonstrating persistence and resilience when it comes to life challenges. But a parent must not use affection as a reward for success or a punishment for failure.”
  3. Pace and persist – and we’re back to teaching children self-control
  4. Embrace failure – which takes us back to “courage” and the fear of failure


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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