Albert Einstein, Dr. Seuss and Oprah Winfrey have one incredibly important thing in common. It’s a character trait that transformed them from ordinary people into household names.
It’s this little thing called grit.
And this is what it looks like in action:
- Einstein couldn’t speak until he was almost four years old. He was told he wouldn’t amount to anything. Today, he holds a Nobel Prize in physics and we consider him one of the greatest scientists of our time.
- Theodor Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss, nearly burned his first book after watching 27 different publishers reject it. But when he passed away at age 87, he had published more than 40 books, which collectively sold more than half a billion copies.
- Oprah Winfrey lost her first job as a news anchor because her boss said she wasn’t fit for television. Now she holds 17 Daytime Emmy Awards, owns The Oprah Winfrey Network, and has an estimated net worth of $3 billion.
The only reason we know these people is because they refused to be defined by failure and rejection.
That is what grit is all about.
Participation trophies aren’t the same as success.
Grit teaches children to treat life like a marathon rather than a sprint and that anything worth achieving takes a combination of hard work, passion and perseverance. It sets them up to overcome whatever obstacles get in their way—and helps them understand participation trophies aren’t the same as success. Most importantly, grit gives them the tools they need to become the strong and independent adults God created them to be.
Here are some practical ways you can start raising children with grit.
1. Quit making their beds.
Making the bed sounds like an insignificant chore, but think again. During his commencement speech at his alma mater, Admiral William McRaven announced that his top takeaway from Navy SEAL training was the importance of making his bed every morning.
He said, “It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.” McRaven also shared that the habit helped him understand that the little things in life really do matter: “If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
So don’t feel bad for having your kids make the bed every morning before launching into their day. It builds character and pride, even if it takes a few years for them to fully understand the effect.
2. Let them pack their bags.
Give your children the responsibility of packing their lunch boxes, school backpacks and overnight bags for sleepovers. If you hand that task over to them, you give them the opportunity to make, and learn from, small mistakes while they are still living part under your roof.
If they forget something, don’t sweat it. That’s part of the process. And when the lunch bell rings and your eighth grader realizes they forgot to pack a drink, they will probably remember to double check their bag the next day to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
This helps your kids develop diligence, prepare for their day, and understand the consequences of their actions when the risks are low. It’s good for them to learn this lesson now so they can better handle life when they are out on their own.
3. Encourage problem solving.
When a small problem comes up, give your children a chance to wrestle with the issue before throwing on your superhero cape and swooping in to save the day. See what solutions they come up with for their problem. Letting them practice problem solving with the small things now sets them up to work through more complex issues that come up in the future.
Let’s go back to the lunch example above. If you let your fifth grader pack their lunch and they realize they don’t have a drink, they suddenly have the opportunity to problem solve! They can choose to go without a drink or trade their chips for a friend’s lemonade. Or, if they have some money on hand, they can choose to buy a drink. Your child has options, the chance to make their own decision, and the opportunity to realize they’re more capable of solving problems on their own than they might have thought.
Skills kids learn throughout the process often matter more than the outcome.
4. Praise efforts, not results.
We live in a world that praises results—but also tosses around phrases like “overnight success.” So often we’re quick to notice and acknowledge the product of hard work, but we don’t take time to consider—or praise—what it took to get there. But that’s the stuff that matters most!
Think about it like this: A child who didn’t study for their math exam but still got an A isn’t quite as notable as the student who studied for hours and brought their grade up from a D to a B. The one who raised their grade put in the hard work and effort and will probably retain more of that information.
So next time you get the chance, applaud your children’s efforts and make sure they understand the skills they learn throughout the process often matter more than the outcome.
Children learn faster than we think. And while they may not develop the grit of Albert Einstein, Dr. Seuss or Oprah Winfrey overnight, putting these small practices in place will help them grow up to be the strong, independent and capable adults God designed them to be.