“I can’t do this. It’s too hard.”
That one phrase was the worst thing that a student could say to me. Hearing it made me grit my teeth and take a few deep breaths. “No, you can do it” I would calmly reply. Usually this was followed by the student listing the reasons why they weren’t smart enough, they weren’t good at it, or they simply didn’t like whatever we were working on. I persisted and eventually with a few small victories, the student realized that Yes, they could do it!
I started to see my six-year-old daughter, Llama, doing the same thing when confronted with a difficult situation. Tears sprang to her eyes any time she didn’t know how to do something. When she brought home her first page of math homework in Kindergarten, she threw her head down on the kitchen table in frustration. While I want my kids to struggle, I also want them to keep trying until they get it. Llama didn’t know how to begin. She thought that since she didn’t know how to do the entire page at first glance, she just couldn’t do it.
Research Psychologist and “grit expert” Dr. Angela Duckworth defines Grit as “passion and perseverance for very long term goals.” In other words: working through difficult issues as they arise, not giving up and being willing to try multiple ways to reach a goal. Grit is a quality inherent to long term success.
My question was how to best nurture this quality in my daughter. How do you teach kids grit?
Happy Heart Kid (affiliate) develops kits to help parents teach their children social and emotional issues. Each kit contains craft projects, games and activities all designed with the purpose to teach a skill. They sent me the Grit kit for free to review.
Grit Kit Activities
When I opened the box, I found a note to parents explaining the concept of Grit and how to best foster it in children. The box contained four activities that were numbered. Each activity built upon the one before it.
The bright colors and packaged supplies immediately captivated my daughter (and two-year-old son). We anxiously dove in.
1. Activity Book
We read a story about Kuya, the monarch caterpillar, and her journey to become a beautiful butterfly. Kuya experienced many setbacks on the road to transformation but she persevered through them all and achieved her goal. Each page provided a piece of the story and an illustration to color.
While my kids colored, I asked my daughter questions about what Kuya did when she confronted a challenge. At first the questions annoyed her.. she just wanted to color. She pushed back a lot. “I don’t know,” she replied in a sind-song voice. The kind of voice that tells me she knows, she’s just not willing to answer my questions and play this game.
Persistence is a personal issue for her. She doesn’t like not understanding something at first. And while it looks like we are a happy family learning about Grit and self improvement…
This was me trying to read the story and my two angelic children laughing and coloring on the page as I read.
Was this an easy subject to tackle? No. BUT.. this story provided the foundation to start the conversation about what perseverance is and how to practice it. Although it seemed like Llama had no interest, she was listening and absorbing. I could tell based on the following activities.
2. Try, Try Again Sun Catcher
Arranging the letters was easy for her. Then came gluing on the tissue paper. When she tried to glue, the paper would come off on her finger, fall off the letters and gaps between pieces formed. Immediately, she responded, “I don’t like it.”
Each activity comes with a note to parents about how to encourage Grit. This was one of the instances I turned to the note. I started asking her questions:
“How can you fix it?”
“I don’t know,” she replied.
Here, I waited and stared. We had just read about Kuya, the butterfly and how she didn’t give up when she didn’t succeed at first. Llama knew what I expected.
“Well….. I have something. But it’s not going to work.”
She ended up gluing tissue paper to tissue paper to fill in the holes. Her solution worked and she finished the project.
So we have a bit of a Toys R Us “R”, which Llama didn’t realize until she hung it up. That was my opportunity to teach another important lesson: Done is better than perfect.
The sun catcher is beautiful. It hangs in her bedroom window and reminds her the importance of trying again if she doesn’t succeed.
3. Jungle Game
Llama played this game with her Daddy. Using her imagination and creativity, she had to overcome problems with only the tools she drew out of a bag.
4. Grit Journal
This journal contained activities to trace different objects with colored pencils and crayons. At first, I thought the activities would be too easy for Llama. But when I watched her, I realized that she needed to concentrate to successfully trace each object perfectly without leaving the lines. I saw that if she messed up, she didn’t get frustrated. She simply went to her mistake and tried to do it again
The Grit Kit from Happy Heart Kid (affiliate) introduced the concept of perseverance to Llama in a concrete and fun way. Now, when she struggles with a task, I can use the word “Grit” and her experience with the activities in this kit to convince her to consider other solutions to her problems. The kit helped me as a parent talk her through her frustrations. She realizes now that just because she doesn’t succeed at something on her first try, she can just “Try, Try Again.”