By Melody M. Ott
LCSW with Wellbeing Collective
Recently, I have been reading a lot about nurturing independence among our children. It really caught my attention because I have been interested in the concept of grit for many years. Grit as defined by Merriam Webster, is, “courage and resolve; strength of character." Simply put, grit is the ability of humans to be able to face adversity and failure without crumbling. It is that resiliency that allows us to carry-on and move forward and grow even when things are difficult.
We know that grit is really important for our children, and we know that having opportunities to fall down and then be picked back up by people who love and support us are some of the ways that we develop grit. As the mother of one teenage son and another who just started middle school, this is an important topic for me, so how can we create gritty kids?
One simple way to develop gritty kids is to take the situations that present themselves and use those as opportunities for growth. My eleven year old decided this week that playing football, basketball, and taking piano lessons all while transitioning into middle school might have been a bit much (you think?) and while we allowed him to make these commitments over the summer because he didn’t want to miss out on any of these activities, we invited him to carefully analyze the pros and cons of this choice before he made it. We reminded him that piano lessons were not optional (he is a bright child and really loves the challenge music brings), and we suggested that two sports might be a lot to handle. He assured us he could handle it and three weeks into the school year, you guessed it, he feels he has taken on too much (shocker!).
So, what should we do about this? We could allow him to quit one of the sports, we could go to the coaches and talk to them about what our options are, we could tell him to suck it up and live with the choices he has made. We could do any of those things, but we have decided to allow this to be a resiliency building opportunity. In our family, this looks like: conversations about how he is feeling, what he thinks his options might be, how he might manage his time differently, how he might talk to his coaches about his options. Notice that we are talking to HIM, not his coaches. HE made these choices and we will support him, brainstorm with him, and help when it is appropriate, but he will need to handle this situation and we will be right by his side as he does. This may seem harsh, but we believe that this is going to help him in the future. Our hope is that he is going to learn to weigh the pros and cons, understand how much he can manage, develop communication skills that allow him to share his needs with others respectfully, and maybe through this experience he will develop some grit and confidence. Don’t get me wrong, the mommy in me wants to rescue my sweet baby and protect him from this, but I know this isn’t going to help him to become the man I want him to be someday.
Fortunately, we aren’t faced with this type of situation very often (could you imagine if this were the norm?). But we are given little opportunities each and every day to give our kids what they need in the long run – so, what are some simple, everyday ways we can do to encourage growth in our kids? Here are a few simple ideas:
Invite your children to make a grocery list with items for their lunch and have them get those items when you go grocery shopping (give them their own cart and a list – and watch your toes!).
Ask your children to make their own lunch each day (we do this on Sunday and they know they have to have at least one fruit in their lunch each day and that candy doesn’t count as lunch!).
Allow them to fill out their own school papers and documents like permission slips.
Role play with your child about how they can share a concern or problem with their teacher themselves, before you get involved (I love pretending to be the teacher, and you can bet I am always meaner than the teacher will actually be!).
Make them responsible for specific chores around the house and expect them to be done well (I have been known to tell my children that yes, I expect perfection – they hate this).
Have them order their own food at a restaurant (make eye contact, say please and thank you – the whole enchilada).
Let them know that you are happy to help them study or fix homework, but that you will not do it for them. Require them to ask you for help, do not offer.
Teach them to do their own laundry and give them a day of the week that they may use the washer and dryer.
Require them to call the parents of their friends and request that their friend come over for a play date. Teach them proper phone etiquette first (most of our kids don’t even know how to dial the phone – just ask the school receptionist!).
Let them pack their own clothes for your next trip (after they pack go through the items with them to make sure they haven’t forgotten shoes – we actually made it to Tampa with no shoes once, whoops!).
As you can see, the possibilities are endless. And of course, you should choose activities that are age appropriate for your child and their ability. Remember that sometimes allowing your kids to struggle or even fail might be painful in the short term, but life giving in the long run. What I want most for my kids is for them to leave my house knowing how to: really clean the bathroom, how to plan, shop for and cook a good meal, how to do their laundry, use the vacuum and mop, mow, get their work done on time, give it 100%, be kind, be helpful, love and be loved, apologize, and really know how to enjoy their lives! I know that being gritty is the key to all of it.
Let’s get gritty friends!