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Tips to help kids develop grit for school

Grit, or a student’s ability to persevere in the face of difficulty until goals are met, is a life long skill you can help your child learn.

Today's guest blogger Paul A. LeBuffe, M.A., Director of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, Center for Resilient Children.

Everyday our children experience a roller coaster of emotions ranging from frustration and fear to excitement and happiness.  Too often these emotions dramatically alter and control a child's behavior. While our children face constant and growing social and academic pressures there is an opportunity to teach them a life-long skill: grit.

Grit, or a student's ability to persevere in the face of difficulty until goals are met, is a well-established concept in scientific research. With grit, children can learn to adapt to and overcome their surroundings with a positive mindset and resilient spirit.

There are many ways that parents can help their children develop this important skill. Highlighted below are three tips.

Optimistic Mindset

Helping our children develop an optimistic mindset is one of the most important things we can do as parents. Children who view themselves as not good at something or "dumb" will have a much more difficult time succeeding in school than children who view themselves as capable, able to overcome barriers, and in the case of school performance, able to learn. One strategy toward that goal is to share with your children a life experience that required grit. Knowing that you had to overcome adversity can inspire your children to build confidence in their own abilities. Cultivating a child's optimistic mindset also depends in part on delivering effective praise.

Effective Praise

Praising children is one of the best ways to promote their self-esteem, but often times we do it ineffectively. To be effective, praise must have three elements.

  1. We must ensure that a child knows who it is that is being praised, particularly in group settings. Be sure to direct praise at children by acknowledging them by name.

  1. State the action that is garnering the praise.

  1. We must say something positive. So rather than, "good job," try, "Jane, you did a really great job shoveling the snow off of the front porch."

And, we must remember that while praise for good deeds and a job well done is important, we must also praise children's efforts—not just their accomplishments. Ample research exists that demonstrates a positive correlation between praise for children's efforts and their likelihood of persevering in the future. If we only praise children's accomplishments, we run the risk of transmitting the idea that failure will be a disappointment to us, which can actually discourage the likelihood that children will remain persistent in trying to reach their goals.

Coping with Setbacks

Your child's fears about the new school year may be realized – their school work may be challenging, social interactions may prove fraught— and that's OK. Inevitably, children will suffer disappointments, setbacks and failures. When our children fail, we need to recognize their efforts, express confidence in their ability to learn from the situation, and help them identify what they could do differently in the future. Children who have well developed grit perceive setbacks as challenges to be overcome and failures as learning opportunities.

Developing grit is not a characteristic that can be achieved overnight; rather it comes as your child experiences any adverse situations. By helping our children develop grit -- building their self-esteem, optimistic mindset and resilience – we're giving them the tools to tackle the future with a sense of possibility, positivity and excitement.

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