Creative Child

Why grit is the most important quality for early success

by Deborah Song

The Scripps National Spelling Bee contest is one of the most cutthroat and revered competitions. Winning, psychologists found, takes more than IQ or talent. The kids who won were more inherently persistent and likely to plug away at practice on their own; they weren’t smarter, they just worked harder. This quality of perseverance and passion when working toward long-term goals has acquired the nickname of grit.

Angela Duckworth, who spearheaded this study, has also followed West Point cadets, and students at elite universities, sales people and teachers. In every case, she found that grit, not intelligence, academic achievement, or talent was a better predictor of early success, well-being and happiness. Grit, at least in males, also proved to be a better predictor of whether the subject was married and would stay married than standard personality traits.

“The idea that kids have to get straight A’s in everything and to take advanced classes is misguided,” Duckworth says. Granted some children are born grittier than others. But unlike IQ, which is relatively fixed, grit is something that can be acquired and harnessed. So how do you cultivate grit in your child for early success? Here are some tips.

Start early. Start young, but start early in the day too. Admiral Williams McRaven in the book “Grit to Great” is found saying that the number one lesson he learned from his Navy SEAL training was making your bed. “It starts you off in the beginning of the day doing something that you have to learn how to do perfectly,” he says, “and if you, by chance, have a terrible day, when you come home, at least you've done one thing right.”

The idea is to assign a task in the morning that your child is in charge of and can feel good about accomplishing at the first onset of the day. The challenge for parents here is to resist the urge to remake the bed your child made, which would send the message that their efforts toward early success aren’t good enough.

Praise the effort not the result. When parents focus on a child’s effort, it helps kids do the same. When you say things like, “Good job for not giving up,” instead of “you’re so smart,” it reinforces the idea that early success is the result of effort and not some fixed attribute they can’t change. It’s important to keep in mind that any self-disparaging talk would only negate what we aim to teach.

Make an effort to adopt positives mantras yourself. And whenever your child utters phrases like, “I can’t do this,” or “I don’t want to do this anymore,” remind them to replace them with one of the mantras you use.

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