Failure is scary. And for a lot of us, the thought of our children failing is even scarier. But what if I told you that in allowing your children to fail, you are setting them up for even greater success by giving them the gift of grit.
Grit is defined as a person’s ability to persevere. It’s someone’s hardiness and ambition, or how well they are able to stick to a goal and achieve it, despite what obstacles they may face. Simply put, grit is something that helps people succeed. Interestingly enough, grit is also something that can be learned. But why do so many kids today struggle with this skill today?
One theory is that kids just aren’t given the opportunities to persevere like they used to. From parents helping their children climb the climbing equipment at the local park, to giving a little too much input on their homework and school projects, we as parents tend to micromanage our kids in order to affect their outcomes in a way that we believe will make them successful. Oh, and I'm speaking from first hand experience here. Guilty. We’ve ALL done this, some more than others, even if you don’t label yourself as a helicopter, snow plow, bulldozer or any of those other lovely parenting terms.
It’s true though, right? Making goals, sticking to them, and then being rewarded for achieving those goals just doesn’t happen as much as it used to. But why? Aside from our desire as parents to ensure the success of our children, another reason could be because our society has largely embraced the idea that participation deserves a trophy, or because we have decided that everyone should be recognized as special regardless of efforts and talents-- that, or no one should.
Here’s a perfect example. Several years ago, my daughter competed at dance competitions. I was familiar with the scene having been a competitive dancer myself as a child. I remembered back to my childhood competition awards ceremony. The disappointment of not placing, going home empty handed after putting in hours upon hours of rehearsal time, and using that disappointment as fuel to have a better outcome next time. I prepared myself to help my own daughter through that disappointment should it come, to teach her those lessons. After all, we can’t all be winners, right? Apparently I was wrong. Because at that awards ceremony Every. Single. Dance. Routine. received a ribbon regardless of their performance.
“What? So those kids who literally forgot their routine get a ribbon?” I thought.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. Getting up on stage and performing in front of strangers can be a harrowing experience. But how about the time your child’s teacher let another student take a test or rewrite a paper over and over until they got a passing grade? What lessons are they learning?
My husband and I feel very strongly that failure is one of the most important tools when it comes to learning. That being said, it is difficult to watch your kids fail. Heartbreaking sometimes. But if we don’t let our children fail, how will they learn to get back up, brush it off, and try again? Will they become overwhelmed by their goals and quit before ever even giving them a fair shot? Possibly. That depends a lot on your kid’s personality, and on how you approach these teachable moments.
So what can you do? Start by being supportive without controlling the situation. On the trapeze of life, parents should be a safety net that their children fall into, not a harness that keeps them firmly tied to the swing. They need to learn to take those risks and try, because the thing is, no one ever really knows when they will succeed, and the failure before is what makes that success so much sweeter.
Wondering what else you can do? Here are some helpful tips for cultivating grit in your children:
- Applaud your children’s efforts more than the outcomes.
- Let your children fail, and praise them when they get back up. Give them hope but let them get frustrated.
- Have your children come up with mantras for when things get difficult.
- Teach your children that for success, effort and enthusiasm is needed.
- Work with your children to find new interests that push their boundaries and challenge them.
- Encourage your children to be passionate about a hobby, subject or activity.
- Discuss the differences between stepping stone goals, short term goals, long term goals, lifetime goals, and longshot goals.
- Set goals with you children that are just outside of their reach.
- Encourage children to keep going despite setbacks.
- Be a role model. Talk about your goals, your failures and your successes with your children. Let them know that it is ok to fail.
Check out this FREE three page printable to help you with goal setting with your kids.
Looking for other ways to teach kids to persevere? Check out our SUNCards! SUNCards™ are decks of cards that were developed by a 10 year old girl, and use evidence based strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, positive psychology, and random acts of kindness to help kids manage their anxiety. They feature lovable monsters who share confidence building positive affirmations, and helpful tasks for redirection. Best of all, for every deck purchased another deck is donated to a nonprofit that serves kids.