Developing Grit in Our Kids

Tracy Thompson

By Tracy Thompson

When I work with parents and children together, I typically start out by asking them to make a list of challenges. Generally speaking, parents start by talking about the lack of motivation in kids, the disrespect, and behaviors that drive them nuts. Kids start out by saying that they want more freedom or that their parents don’t listen to them or understand how hard their life is. Then I have parents make a list of what they hope for their kids and kids make a list of what they hope for themselves one day when they are older. This is where things start to align. They both want responsibility, success, self-determination. So how do our kids develop this grit?

Clearing the Path for Our Kids Works Against Grit

In a recent interview with local news station FOX 17, I used the terms “lawnmower parenting” and “helicopter parenting.” All of us know how painful and difficult disappointment and struggle can be. So oftentimes, we try to protect our kids from this struggle. This is actually working against our goals for their future. When our kids make mistakes (i.e. striking out, failing a test, not getting up on time) and we rescue them, we are enabling them to continue to make the mistakes without feeling the weight of the consequences.

Enabling Vs. Empowering

Youth Baseball Pitcher

Enabling is defined as anything we do to get in between someone and the natural consequences of their actions. It can consist of rescuing them or pushing the consequence on harder through shame. When a kid strikes out in baseball, we feel so sad for them when they walk from the field with their head down and tears in their eyes. Of course we feel an urge to say something that will lessen their disappointment. It is enabling to tell them they did a great job, when they know that they didn’t. But when we say, “You have so much courage to get out there again and again and try—that takes some real grit,” it builds in them a sense of self-confidence and self-determination.

Some parents resort to yelling at or “coaching” their kids by saying, “Now you felt so awful when you were striking out, didn’t you? You should have practiced harder and this wouldn’t have happened.” This also is enabling, because it is using more shame to make the child feel worse about their mistake. Doing this to our kids actually stops the learning the child would have experienced from striking out by taking away their opportunity to make a decision to work harder on their own.

Kids want to grow self-confidence and strength; as parents we want our kids to develop these things, too. Instead of enabling, let’s empower our kids and encourage them towards a future where they can show up with strength and believe they are capable of taking on the challenges that life throws at them.