As parents, the majority of us probably feel that we must, as part of the job description of being a parent, protect our children from experiencing pain or disappointment. We don’t want our kids to feel sadness or rejection, right? We want them to live happily and at peace with the world. Unfortunately, it turns out we might actually be doing them more harm than good. Apparently, the boo-boos and bad guys actually teach our kids that you can’t win them all, and that it’s ok. A valuable lesson, all in all.
Parenting experts talk about how to raise happy and well-adjusted kids. They give pointers about what to do and what not to do. What works best, and what to try to avoid. Spanking? Bad (teaches kids that hitting is ok). Time outs? Depends on how you use them and the age of the child. The ‘wait-until-your-father-gets-home’ threat? Bad. Disassociates consequences from the actions. What’s the right way to show a kid how to act? By focusing on the positives. As a parent coach, I learned the mantra ‘what you focus on, grows’. The more you concentrate on good behaviors and positive attitudes in your kids, the more likely you will be to see more of them. So, in light of grittiness, what parenting experts are saying now is that in our haste to save our children from experiencing any angst or discomfort, we are instead setting them up for a misguided understanding of the world. What they actually need to be learning is that they can’t always win, and they can’t always get what they want. In other words, they need to know how to cope with failure. Ouch. That’s a hard pill for a parent to swallow. Our white knight actions may be making our children happy in the short term, but the long term repercussions are not ideal.
So what’s a helicopter mom to do? Let your kid fall on the proverbial and literal playground. They may get some scrapes and bruises but they will also learn that they CAN fall, and then they can get up, brush themselves off and get back to it. They need to know that they can try to build the highest tower of blocks, and that sometimes it might fall, or someone else might knock it over, and it’s ok. Or someone might even build one higher, and that’s ok too. They need to know that they aren’t always going to be the biggest, fastest and the strongest; but given the right lessons, they will soon appreciate the opportunity to learn from whoever was bigger, better and stronger instead of moping in the corner.
It is through making errors that kids (and big people) learn.
So what is grit? It is stick-to-it-iveness in the face of a challenge. It’s perseverance, endurance and the capacity for hard work. When it comes to predicting success in multiple arenas, researchers say grit is more important than SAT scores, extracurricular involvement and high school rank. When we try to cushion our kid’s world, he learns that he can’t cope with life’s difficulties, and may come to fear challenges. Wouldn’t you rather your child know how to get back up after a fall or a mishap? Wouldn’t you rather know that when you can’t be there to cushion a blow – because let’s face, we won’t always be, right? – your child can take care of himself?
Oh, I know it’s hard. I have had to almost physically restrain myself from reaching out and here-let-me-help-you my child, because I so want to be there whenever they might need to reach out. But that isn’t what I should be doing as a parent. Not if I want my kids to be independent and successful and in control of their own lives, at any rate. So what do you say? C’mon folks, let’s let our kids get gritty.