Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were a secret strategy to help our kids succeed in life? We all want kids who are passionate about their interests and persevere when faced with a challenge. If I had to recommend one book for parents of kids in elementary or older to read, this might be it. The author’s research centers on a quality called grit. In this interesting and compelling book, she discusses why it’s important, where it comes from, and most importantly, how to cultivate it in our kids.
Review: The question of nature vs. nurture is timeless. Are people born with innate ability or is that ability grown and developed over their life? We all have some general sense that both are important, but how important is each. Through many fascinating examples, the author presents the case that talent is real, but as she puts it, “effort counts twice.” Some people are naturally faster at learning certain skills. However, the amount of hard work someone is willing to put into developing a skill is far more important than their genetics.
Grit consists of two elements. It is both how passionate or committed you are to your interests as well as how much you persevere in the face of difficulty. To be gritty you need to have a sense of purpose as well as the ability to follow through. Numerous studies examining people who have achieved something amazing, find that the best predictor of success is their level of grit, rather than level of ability or IQ.
Potentially the most important finding of this book is that grit can be grown. As with every other skill, with effort people can become more gritty. This book spends several chapters explaining how to grow your own grit. For example it is possible to cultivate your sense of purpose no matter your profession. You should also make a conscious effort to be more optimistic and develop habits.
As a parent, the section which was most relevant to me was how to cultivate grit in other people. The author reiterates several times that there is not currently extensive research on parenting and grit. However, she also recognizes that this is not an area of life where we can just sit back and wait. As a parent herself, using what she has learned about grit, she makes several sensible recommendations.
One of the findings she shares, which I have seen before in other books, describes how parents can differ in how supportive and demanding they are. Parents who are neither supportive nor demanding are neglectful. Parents who are demanding, but not supportive, are authoritative. Parents who are supportive, but not demanding, are permissive. Parents who are both supportive AND demanding are the ones the author calls psychologically wise. They are parenting for grit. (This parenting style has also been called authoritative and is the one we should all shoot for.)
She also spends a great deal of time talking about the benefits of extracurricular activities. In order to develop their grit, kids need experiences which are both challenging and enjoyable. They need to be able to make the connection that hard work pays off by improving and reaching an accomplishment which they find deeply satisfying. She argues that some experiences, such as school, are challenging, but not intrinsically rewarding. Other experiences, like hanging out with friends, are fun, but not at all hard. Extracurriculars such as music, dance, sports, art, etc. can be both. A coach or instructor who is both demanding and supportive is a valuable asset in your child’s life.
Not only is it important for kids to work on challenging activities that they enjoy, but it is important for them to pick at least one which they stick with. Dabbling in a variety of activities is not a good way to cultivate grit. The author recommends that by the time children reach high school, they should choose one or two of their interests and commit to improving at them for at least 2 years.
Overall, this book has had an enormous impact on the kind of parent I would like to be. Walking the line between supportive and demanding does not come easily. Helping my kids develop their abilities through effort while keeping their interests alive is not an area in which I currently excel. (I’m starting to become a Tiger Mom when it comes to getting my kids to practice piano.) However, after reading this book, I can now clearly see my ideal version of myself. I know what it is I want and I have an outline for how to get there. I can work with that.
Click here for more Parenting Book reviews.