What is Grit? How to Help Kids Develop Grit and a Growth Mindset!

What is Grit?

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What is Grit? The Definition of Grit.

Grit is the ability to keep working towards a goal after encountering setbacks along the way. It’s the idea of hardiness and resilience in the face of obstacles.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth popularized this term in her book saying that it’s the “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

Grit is an attitude and the ability to pursue long-term goals that need mental strength and courage.

What’s the difference between Grit and a Growth Mindset?

Grit is persevering despite setbacks and being resilient in pursuit of long-term goals. A Growth Mindset is the belief that people can learn and improve their skills as they work towards a goal. 

Someone who has a growth mindset believes that traits like intelligence are not fixed. They believe traits and talents are starting points. Through education and hard work, people with a growth mindset believe they have the power to improve their lives.

A growth mindset is required to be gritty. Grit is resilience. If you have grit, you see setbacks and obstacles as opportunities to learn from. You work through obstacles that come your way.

Why is Grit important and How Do We Encourage it in Kids?

Grit is an essential ingredient for success.

We love to see people who are great at what they do, succeed. We look at the results of other people’s grit every day, from professional athletes to our leaders in technology, business and beyond. We are in awe of their many achievements.

Unfortunately, we rarely hear about their failures. We only see their successes, so to most of us, their sacrifices and hard times are merely abstract ideas. We know they’ve likely spent tens of thousands of hours of practice, and failed many times, but we don’t see it.

Yet failures are part of what made these people great. And their ability to withstand failures in the pursuit of their passion is what we call grit.

So how do we teach our kids to be gritty?

How do we set them down a path where they’ll be mentally strong and pursue long-term goals that make them happy and lead more meaningful lives?

First, understand that grit requires a few things:

  • Grit requires courage and risk-taking. 
  • Grit requires self-esteem and vision (a set of goals).
  • Grit requires discomfort and pain (disappointments and anguish from setbacks).

1. Build Courage and instill a Risk-Taking Attitude.

Encouraging kids to be brave is essential for grit. Courage allows kids to take risks and try hard at the things they care about. It also allows kids to see past failure.

When kids fear failure, they stop trying new things. Many things will seem too risky to attempt. They’ll stop engaging in activities where they fear failure. They might even self-sabotage so that they feel safe by not having tried all that hard.

Help kids recognize that failures are important opportunities for learning and that it’s normal to feel apprehensive about pursuing something that’s difficult. After all, the courage to take risks is an acceptance that any pursuit might be accompanied by failure.

How to help kids be more brave:

We can explain to our kids about what it means to be brave, patiently talk them through times when they want to quit activities out of frustration. We can also inspire them to be brave by reading books with them that teach courage and perseverance.

As the trusted grown-ups in their lives, we can also model courage. We can make being brave one of our core family and classroom values.  Kids are sensitive to unspoken social signals. They study adults to understand what behaviors are encouraged and discouraged. Seeing a parent or trusted adult pursue difficult goals paves the way for our kids to be brave as well.

Through real-life examples, discussions, and encouragement, we can make courage normal, and a part of a child’s daily life.

2. Raise Your Child’s Self-Esteem and Help them Develop a Vision (Goals).

Grit also requires kids to have self-confidence and a vision for their own future.

Kids must believe in their own abilities.

They must know that their actions can have a meaningful impact on their environment and that they are competent and powerful enough to change what they want. Otherwise, kids won’t see the point of trying at hard at anything.

A growth mindset and a belief in self-competence are what keeps children from feeling powerless when they encounter obstacles. They have to trust their ability to become great at what they put their efforts towards. This is a core part of self-confidence. They are not only enough, but they can tackle any obstacles that come their way.

Having self-confidence isn’t enough though. Grit also requires a clear vision and a goal.

Kids need to know how to set goals. They need to know enough about what they want and what is possible. They can learn this through the guidance of grown-ups or from working with others. Having a clear personal vision gives kids a reason to persevere through obstacles.

How to raise kids with self-esteem and help them develop a vision and a goal:

  • Self-Esteem

Continuous effort and practice raise true self-esteem. Encourage your kids to practice and teach them the value of practicing by praising their efforts and not their results.

Practice is essential for competency in any area. In fact, the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell suggests that deliberate practice leads to mastery.

Kids who recognize the connection between practice and results will believe in their ability to achieve things through effort. They will understand that it’s not about being born a genius, that it’s tenacity that gets them to their goals.

Help your kids with deliberate practice towards the things they want to achieve. These don’t have to be huge goals. They can be small ones. It’s a good idea to start small.

Guide them to things where they can have little victories, where they can see visible gains. Their self-esteem will rise as they see themselves improving through effort.

  • Vision & Goals

Vision comes from having self-esteem because self-esteem frees kids to imagine futures of their own creation. In other words, it gives them a sense of agency. Uncoincidentally, a sense of agency is one of the most crucial factors to happiness and well-being in children and adults alike.

You can help your children set goals for themselves. You can do this with journals and planners designed for kids and through a collaborative family planner and vision board. It can be incredibly motivating to see that each member of the family is working towards something tough.

You can also show them examples of inspiring kids who are following their vision. It’s a good idea to regularly share these kinds of articles and videos with your children. In fact, you can make it a routine to have fun discussions about these people and the challenges they faced.

Note that how you present these examples is very important. You want to show and discuss, and not pressure your kids to do something similar. Your goal should not be to compare. We are helping our children expand their ideas of what’s possible for them and making it normal to talk about their dreams.

3.  Be Okay with Letting Your Child Feel Pain and Disappointment.

Pain is the quickest path to building character and grit.

Pursuing something difficult means that there will be failures. With failure comes disappointment and suffering. Kids will feel bad. This is unavoidable.

Protecting them from all the effects of failure and pain is not a good option. We’ve already tried this, and it does not work. We make kids mentally strong by allowing kids to make mistakes. Denying them of experiencing that speaks more to our fears as parents and educators.

We have to be okay with letting our kids feel pain. Pain changes us, and it’s also a fact of life. Part of growing up is learning that there are unpleasant experiences we will have to overcome. That is the cost of leading a fulfilling life.

Pain and disappointment can also change you for the better. In The Road to Character, David Brooks says that “Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different.”

Kids need to know that it’s okay to feel bad every once in a while because those experiences can build character and change them for the better. Discomfort and setbacks can not only make them more resilient in the future but can also give them new perspectives that will help them in pursuit of their goals.

Kids can develop grit if they have the support and guidance to get through the times when things don’t go as planned. It’s important for kids to trust that you will always be there to love and support them.

How to help kids deal with setbacks and hardship:

Accept their feelings. Talk to them about what they are experiencing. Show them that it’s normal to feel bad and that those feelings will pass.

You can remind them that pain is part of learning anything exciting and new. You can remind them that we learned to walk by falling. If we hadn’t endured and overcame the pain that came with the falls, we would’ve never learned to stand on our own two feet.

You can also help them develop a plan that will help them through what they are feeling at the moment. This can include deep breathing, mindfulness techniques and other activities that promote calm, focus and peace

Show them that there is a way to move beyond what they feel at that moment. Help them see that there is hope through stories, videos, and real-life examples.

Related: Raising Resilient Kids: 5 Surprising Characteristics of a Resilient Child

Grit Resources and Perseverance Activities for Kids


Easy Activities that teach Grit and help foster a Growth Mindset

I’m a big fan of workbooks and activities.

Resilience workbooks like Healthy Mindsets for Super Kids help children become more self-aware and in control of their emotions. These are suitable for kids 7 and older and can help them become more emotionally intelligent. This introduces kids to the ideas of positive thinking, self-esteem, communication styles and stress management.

Coping Skills for Kids is a favorite book of mine for helping kids deal with setbacks. It focuses on helping kids develop healthy coping habits for overcoming negative feelings. The pages are well organized into four sections (Calming, Distraction, Physical, and Processing) and are filled with techniques. Some highlights include quick mental and physical grounding techniques and a section on helping children identify their feelings and other stressors.

Books that Teach Grit

Using Literature: Some of the best stories in literature feature characters who overcome significant adversity. Books like Rosie Revere, Engineer or a classic, like Hatchet, are great for teaching perseverance and showing kids that setbacks are a normal part of life.

Reading Non-Fiction: For older kids, reading and sharing excerpts of books about Grit and Mindset are inspiring. For kids who prefer non-fiction, especially in middle school years, these excerpts are wonderful for teaching big ideas and facilitating discussions.

Movies and Videos that teach Perseverance and Courage

There are also some fantastic kid-friendly movies that are great for teaching perseverance and grit. They’re great to watch as a family or in the classroom.

Angela Duckworth’s talk on Grit is also a must-watch. She sums up her book nicely. It makes a great discussion piece for both kids and adults.

Any new skill you teach your children is an opportunity to teach grit and nurture a growth mindset.

As long as you take the time to guide them through challenges as they learn new skills, you will help them build confidence and recognize their own competency. Equipping them with skills and opportunities to use those skills will help your child develop the kind of healthy mindset that will help them see success in the future.

At the end of the day, it’s your patience and keen understanding of your child’s needs that will help you most in instilling a gritty mindset.

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