Wondering how to encourage grit and persistence in kids?
It took me by surprise.
My daughter was in first grade at the time. She had just started to read books longer than simple sight word readers.
As she struggled through a particularly difficult part, her eyes filled with tears and she threw the book down.
“I CAN’T DO IT! I’M NEVER GOING TO READ!”
She ran to the couch and buried her head in the cushions,
“Sweetie! It’s OK”
“NO! I’m just not good at it. I can’t do it. I’m stupid.”
Oh, you know how that makes your heart sink as a parent.
And she refused to try. I asked her to look at it again and she wouldn’t.
It’s heartbreaking to see your child give up…
Your automatic response is usually, “No. No, you’re not. Try again” And that’s usually met with more frustration and then fighting with your kid until both of you end in tears.
What to do you when your child just gives up?
When she quits and calls herself stupid or labels the task as impossible?
Can you think of a time when you had the same thoughts?
Man, I can.
When I didn’t achieve National Board Certification on the first try…
When I was so bad at running the 1.5 mile in middle school that I stopped trying and walked it…
So many of us – me included – are conditioned to believe that if we have to exert effort at a task, we’re never going to be good at it.
We quit, give up, tell ourselves it’s not meant to be and chase something more “reasonable”.
When really, it’s not that we aren’t able. It’s what we’re believing about how talent works and the narrative that we’re telling ourselves.
I don’t want my children to fall into the same trap.
How to help your child develop perseverance
This tip will seriously change your life.
It changed the way I parented when I heard it, the way I taught my fifth-grade students as a teacher and the way I handled my own dreams and goals.
Have you heard about mindset?
Originally coined by Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two types of people in the world: Those who have a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset.
You might have heard these terms before, but let me give you a little recap.
People with a fixed mindset believe that the abilities they have, they’re going to have for the rest of their lives.
They’re either talented or not talented.
Smart or not smart.
You hear this in the media all the time in reference to some young entrepreneur or a talented musician.
“Ya, they were born with the gift.” or they’re labeled “prodigy.”
Of course, they’re this wonderful, they were born with it.
Nope. Wrong. The fixed mindset is totally false.
That is not how our brains work.
Yet most get stuck in this thinking and never crawl out.
Here’s your lifeline.
Its called the growth mindset. Growth mindset individuals view the brain as a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it gets.
Our brain has neurons that fire anytime we do something.
It’s what makes us think and perform.
When you learn a new skill, different neurons will fire in your brain but they’re not yet connected, so the speed and ease at how you do this new skill is limited.
With practice, neurons form pathways to each other through the brain.
Think of it as wading through snow. You open your front door and you need to get to the mailbox, but there is a foot of snow on the ground.
Your journey to the mailbox is long and cold as you hoist each leg above the snow only to sink it back down with each step.
But when you return to your front door, you follow the same path and the walk is a little easier.
Then say you want to mail a letter later that day, so you trek out again. Only this time, you’ve already packed the snow down, you follow the same path and it’s an easier walk.
This is the benefit of practice and this is exactly what happens in the brain when we try something new. The skill becomes easier and easier until we master it.
How to help your kids right now
Kids who say its too hard or “I don’t get it” have the fixed mindset.
But, it’s a simple thing to fix.
Start by telling them how the brain is a muscle. The more you practice something, the easier it gets.
You’ll need to repeat this again and again until your child starts to believe it.
Lots of repetition.
Repeat it so many times that your child starts rolling her eyes and repeats, “Yes, I know, the growth mindset…”
But whoa, watch out.
Because when it clicks, your kid may still get mad and take a break. But he or she will start utilizing that growth mindset and show perseverance and persistence like you’ve never seen!
Reading eventually clicked for my daughter.
Now, as a fifth grader, I constantly remind her of her growth mindset when tasks get too hard.
And she persists.
Your child will get there, too.