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Grit

post #1 of 42
Thread Starter 

I'm just about to start looking into this topic.

 

Before I get digging too deep, I thought I'd check in and see if anyone has any articles on the subject they love and would recommend.

 

I'm wanting to know how to instill (if you can) grit or "stick-to-itness" in children. That drive to get through something because there will be something great on the other side.

post #2 of 42

This is something I've thought a lot about over the years, and given that my eldest will be 19 before long, that's a lot of years. I haven't found a lot written that looks at this issue philosophically and practically -- at least not from the perspective of a consensual-living style of family management and homeschooling. I've written on my blog about it, with this post probably being the most complete fleshing out of my thoughts. I wrote it more than five years ago but I think I still believe it all, and I think it has worked. My kids have amazing work ethics and are always being complimented for this.

 

In a nutshell I think it's important to engineer children's lives so that they have at least one thing they're involved in that does not produce instant gratification but is fun, meaningful to them, produces gradual long-term progress and is vigorously supported by family and/or community so that it stays meaningful. It might be raising livestock, or participating in gymnastics or dance, or learning the piano, or learning martial arts. For my kids it was especially learning to play violin, viola and piano. 

 

It also helps, I think, if your family life is light on instant-gratification convenience-related habits like DVRs, convenience foods and trips to the corner store. Simple things like cooking from scratch and in bulk, growing a kitchen garden, keeping your child in the loop about the car payments, participating in a CSA, walking places rather than always driving ... those all build an appreciation of the many small steps that lead to longer-term accomplishments.

 

I think that teaching empathy and grit are the two big jobs a parent has. I'm amazed that there isn't more written about both of them. 

 

Miranda

post #3 of 42

I think there is much benefit in knowing when something is too difficult and should be set aside for a later time. Kids frequently want to quit when something is difficult. Some parents push them to keep at it and others let them quit, honoring that they find it difficult and frustrating. Sometimes those things are no longer difficult when the child tries them again because they've matured. Also, when they are more mature, they are less easily frustrated and can see the long term benefits more easily.

 

For instance, my ds was a very late reader. We could have worked and worked on reading and he would have learned to read with much time and effort. But we did nothing outside of our regular living and he learned to read with minimal frustration and minimal effort.

 

Of course, I see how practicing certain things can be beneficial. But I don't know how much you can encourage kids to practice and work through things without negative effects. I think that is something that needs to come from within and is partially dependent on the individual's temperament. And I don't think knowing when to quit or take a break is as valued as it should be:-)

post #4 of 42
Thread Starter 

I appreciate both of those thoughts.

 

We practise this skill with finances and food frequently. What makes me want to learn more is that my 7 year old often gets interested in things, then something happens which he doesn't like then wants to quit (before doing so we brainstorm some strategies to help him deal with the problem...often boredom, but generally I don't like to force something upon him that truly makes him miserable). Maybe we need some baby steps to delayed gratification...not big drawn-out projects, but one-week, organically-derrived type stuff.

 

And to be honest, he posesses so many qualities similar to my BIL that make the worry. He's so smart, and so capable, but often chooses the helplessness approach to things. I feel like making him pull himself up by the boot straps, suck it up, problem solve, follow-through, and make it work (which DH and I are both like). Sometimes I insist he buck up and get something done on his own, and other times I choose not to be the stubborn one and just finish one miniscule task so we can get on to what's important.

 

I have to remind myself sometimes that he's only 7, his needs are valid (when they're truly needs, not persistent laziness), and if I can meet those needs now hopefully he can harness all that greatness and "get it" and it put it to use in a positive endeavour.

post #5 of 42

Oftentimes perfectionism can be mistaken for disinterest or laziness.

post #6 of 42
Thread Starter 

This is SO TRUE!! DS1 is definitely a perfectionist.

 

....with that in mind, how does one deal with perfectionism?

post #7 of 42

My ds is a bit of a perfectionist. And he is very sensitive so if anyone corrects him or makes a suggestion for improvement, he'll quit. Getting older has helped. He didn't want to brush his own teeth until he was 10 because he had so many cavities from a young age and the dentists always harped on brushing and flossing that ds didn't want the responsibility. Didn't want them being able to blame him. So I brushed and flossed his teeth every night until he suddenly wanted to do it himself. It's tricky.

post #8 of 42

Like moominmamma said, it's good to have one thing they enjoy, doesn't provide instant gratification, and they can see improvement over time (or I should say that the gratification is from the process as well as the mastery).  For dd this is gymnastics and riding lessons.  She loves them so much, she is highly motivated to go to classes and keep trying.  It took her a year to get a back hip circle on the bars (class once/wk).  She had just started doing her back hand springs when the coach left and she has been struggling with them ever since.  But she doesn't seem outwardly frustrated.  She loves trying to figure the skills out almost as much as she enjoys getting them.  This from a nearly 8yo girl who, until not even a year ago,  rarely picked up a pencil or pen for more than a minute because of the frustrations of controlling them.  She won't sew for the same reason, or knit.  She gets frustrated with sounding words out, even though she is a decent reader for her age.  The vagaries of English are discouraging for a perfectionist.

 

In gym and in the arena, her perfectionism drives her to keep going and get it right.  Outside of those places, the same perfectionism causes her to set things down in a huff, or avoid it entirely.  But now she has 2 years of gymnastics and almost one year of riding to look to.  Partly, it's a matter of connecting those experiences and what she learns from them to other areas.  Partly, it's a matter of waiting until development has caught up with her ideas.  

 

She's my oldest, so I don't have the benefit of long experience to see how this all turns out, but yesterday dd was writing lists of words--spelling test style--and we were brainstorming 3-letter words for her to spell while I made dinner.  I am thrilled, both for her writing and her spelling (we've been watching a lot of the old Electric Company recently!) and I'm glad I had the patience to wait.

 

ETA:  There is something magical about working with horses.  Our instructor is a certified riding therapist, and getting kids on horses is her passion.  Amazing.  She has allowed us to share one lesson every other week.  

post #9 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by eirual View Post

This is SO TRUE!! DS1 is definitely a perfectionist.

 

....with that in mind, how does one deal with perfectionism?

 

Ah yes, my first response was coloured by my experience: my eldest two are extreme perfectionists. I often saw them stuck in a form of perfection paralysis, wanting something that I knew was within their grasp developmentally but unwilling to grapple with the steps required along the way to mastery because they knew they weren't assured immediate complete mastery. Because I saw this tendency in them, I did choose a couple of areas to work through this with them. Ds, for example: at age 3 he wanted to learn to play violin like his older sister and most of the children he knew (I teach Suzuki violin, and most of his friends at the time were my students). But he didn't want to start lessons, because he knew it would be hard at first, and he wouldn't be able to play what those other kids could play for a while. So he said "I'll start when I'm four." After his 4th birthday he said "Actually, when I'm 5." After his 5th birthday, he said "Actually, I'll wait until I'm 6." But at that point I said no, I knew he wanted to learn, and I was going to help him do so. I pushed a little, I supported and nurtured a lot. But only because I knew he could learn and wanted to learn, and it was only fear of not having instant mastery that was getting in the way -- and this was a pattern I saw playing out in the rest of his life, with soccer, and math, and shoelaces, and handwriting and all sorts of things. So he did start violin, and enjoyed it. There were moments of frustration along the way, to be sure. But he with my help and support he was helped over the first small humps, and then over larger humps, and began to internalize ways of helping himself over humps ... and before too long he began to apply those lessons on his own, not only within the context of violin learning but in other areas of his life.

 

The support I gave him was clear expectations of daily work, a lot of creative dressing up of the necessary work in fun and games and various forms of documentation that allowed him to see and appreciate his success as it accrued. I wasn't dishonest about the work: I didn't try to pretend it wasn't about learning the violin, but I gave him fun ways of doing it. We logged his work in various ways to give him ways to see the work he was doing even if he didn't naturally appreciate the way in which he was improving and getting closer to mastery of the instrument: we built charts, we made stacks of pennies for repetitions, we played customized snakes & ladders games to introduce fun elements of chance, we shot short videos of his violin playing from the earliest stages so that he could look back a month or two or six later and see how far he had come, we interjected silliness, we made use of props and puppets and silly voices. Gradually I discovered that the most important thing I could do to ensure his willingness to continue was to do whatever was necessary to end each work session with a smile. That sometimes met stopping the instant something went really well, even when I was very tempted to try and capitalize immediately on that success, or to finish up what was on my mental list for the day. 

 

Perfectionists tend to be quite bright, since it's their ability to appreciate the width of their competence gap (between where they're at and where they want to be) that fuels their perfectionism. And they tend to learn a lot by observation and contemplation, since they prefer that their first attempts be as successful as possible. I think it can be helpful to allow them a lot of opportunity to observe, and then perhaps to rehearse their skills in private before trying them out. (When my ds began doing aikido, he watched three or four classes first, and came home and tried out a lot of what he had seen in his bedroom, and then agreed to join a class.) Sometimes it helps to wait until they have more maturity and the learning process is likely to be accelerated, but it can be a delicate balance: waiting can lead to its own sort of frustration, and a self-fulfilling sense of failure as one's friends and siblings enjoy more and more success and the competence gap gets even larger. So there are parental judgement calls involved. Eventually even bright perfectionists need to be able to make friends with mistakes and learn to weather periods of relative incompetence. Life's simply more enjoyable if you're not held hostage by your fear of failure. 

 

A couple of summers ago my eldest dd was away at a university campus getting some intensive orchestral training. One evening she walked through one of the residence lounges and discovered that there was a swing dance workshop going on. A few of her friends were involved in it and they yelled at her to join. It was totally outside her experience and her comfort zone, but she was able to join in "even though I totally sucked at it at first," she said. She laughed at herself, and laughed with her friends, and found she could enjoy what they were all doing even in the midst of bumling around. She had loved swing music for a long time, so having the opportunity to learn swing dance was awesome. As the summer went on they all got quite good, and actually performed at one point. But more importantly, she really really enjoyed herself all along the journey. And this was the kid who when young had taken two years to open her mouth and at piano lessons to say even a single word, for fear of answering a question wrong or otherwise embarrassing herself. I'm so happy that she has reached a point where making a mistake or being less than totally competent is no longer a mortifying situation that shuts her enjoyment down completely. Some kids need help getting through that anxiety, and I think in her case and her brother's it was really good that we worked on that consistently over the years.

 

Miranda

post #10 of 42

For my ds, whether the perfectionism is a problem depends on the situation. He'll grin and say "I'm such a newb at this. I really suck!" while playing online multiplayer computer games. He has never been competitive with them or overly concerned with scores. I feel like he is good with delayed gratification, in general. I figure all that will translate into other things as he gets older. It really is a judgment call with when to nudge a kid and when to just sit back and let things run their course. Kids are so different, even all the perfectionist ones.

post #11 of 42

Like Miranda and SweetSilver, I have also picked a couple of things my kids enjoy.  I kind of arranged them with the idea of helping my kids learn to work hard, focus and stick through a project.  I noticed early on that both my kids enjoy drawing.  So I try to help them learn other intangible and tangible skills through drawing.  For example, we never do handwriting but my oldest writes well enough (in terms of reproducing the letters).  I credit that to all the drawing he has done so far.  There is also a certain level of focus and determination that has to be there in order to finish a drawing.  They don't just draw their own stuff where anything goes.  They draw something predetermined, therefore mistakes along the way are many and they have had to learn to use the eraser a lot.  And paying attention to detail is important.  Sometimes there is frustration, especially for the younger one who is only 4.5 but the desire to keep up with her brother is so strong that there were times she worked through tears.  She was quiet proud of the end result too.  

 

Both of them go to an art studio once a week where they work in various mediums (clay, cardboard, black against white press printing, line drawing and recently water color and oil painting etc).  There is a lot going on and at the end of the session, for the oldest one there is usually nothing to take home because he is working on a project level.  For the younger ones, they let them take at least one thing home. Both my children work really hard at the studio.  They also take another art class, this time, drawing once a week.  It is mixed age and the younger one has to keep up with her brother on the same assignment.  He helps her a lot and she gives it her best shots.  

 

In addition, Taekowndo classes for the oldest teach him a certain level of focus and discipline.  The class he goes to is pretty traditional and strict in practice.  He goes twice a week.  Once in a while, he doesn't want to go because he wants to do something else.  But I remind him how much he actually enjoys it after he gets there.  I also tell him it is a commitment and we need to honor it.  In general, he has been really good about going and doing his best.  

 

I kind of feel like laying out these foundational life skills is more important than actual academic ones right now while my kiddos are young.  Learning how to learn is important.  Strangely enough, I feel non-academic activities such as drawing, dance, kung fu give kids the experience of learning concrete and clearly evidenced skills.  They can see how far they have come along more easily.  Their accomplishment is clearer.  They say I can now draw a rabbit or stand on one toe or whatever and show it off to others.  They take pride in their work.  

 

This thread is interesting.  I hope to hear from other Mamas.  

 

E.

post #12 of 42
My kids are too young for this advice but it sounds like it written for me. I've struggled with terrible perfectionism. Thanks for the tips on baby steps. smile.gif
post #13 of 42

For a 7 year old, I would probably do two things: I would be sure to comment on how much easier some skill has become for him over the last year (or whatever time period) so that he can see how practice helps, and that things that used to be difficult can become easier with time and effort.  The other thing I do, especially when I am concerned about something that I am kind of emotional about (as you seem to be about this, since you're casting him as "like your BIL" who seems to bug you), is look at myself and see if I am modeling the behavior I want to see.  Adults rarely push themselves to learn skills in the wide range we expect children to work.  Adults often decide "I'm not good at ____" and stop trying to do whole categories of activities.  I would encourage you to consider what skill you might work on that is well outside your comfort zone, and work on it.  

 

When my first two kids were struggling with writing, I started teaching myself machining, and it gave me a lot more sympathy for precisely how difficult writing is, especially for a perfectionist.  Perfectionists see the flaws in everything they do, and also how effortlessly adults and older kids can perform these tasks they're struggling with, and it's emotionally challenging to cope with what they see as their own failure.  And then adults tend to brush off the difficulties because we don't remember what it was like.  Neither how hard it is to learn to write nor how hard it is to work through being bad at something everyone else seems to do well.

 

FWIW, when I am learning something new in front of my kids, they seem to be more inclined to take risks too.  

post #14 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by onatightrope View Post

 

FWIW, when I am learning something new in front of my kids, they seem to be more inclined to take risks too.  

Yes.  

 

Recently, it has been learning origami alongside my girls.  They do see that some of it comes more easily than for them, but they also see me struggle with a lot of it, too.  I struggle with spatial visualization, perhaps because of a lifetime of lack of practice.  It's helpful, though, from the girls' perspective to see it.  

 

I've noticed this before with reading.  Pronouncing those dinosaur names can be frustratingly difficult!  

post #15 of 42
Responding to the original post and question.

One way to *kill* a stick-to-it attitude is to interrupt, minimize, or otherwise derail the child's natural desire to complete a child task. That means completing the Lego plane, see the end of the movie, finish the book, whatever is important. So unless the there is a *very* good reason to deny the opportunity to complete childish projects when they are young, let them finish. As they get older, the choices of what is important will change, and you should just keep supporting them.

In other words, the trait is already there, just don't destroy it. Look for it, and nurture it instead.
post #16 of 42

Great thread!  I came across this article in a 2007 Stanford Alum magazine in a doctor's office a couple years ago.  eyesroll.gif Anyway, I really liked it and saved it.  It supports what you're talking about perfectionism here. 

 

 

http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=32124

 

"the difference between the helpless response and its opposite—the determination to master new things and surmount challenges—lay in people’s beliefs about why they had failed. People who attributed their failures to lack of ability ...  would become discouraged even in areas where they were capable. Those who thought they simply hadn’t tried hard enough, on the other hand, would be fueled by setbacks."

 

 

Quote:
Life's simply more enjoyable if you're not held hostage by your fear of failure.

 

So true. 

post #17 of 42
I read a bit more.

As a perfectionist, I would suggest you take a step back, for a moment. When something is going badly, I frequently walk away. Then I think of a new approach and go back. I simply cannot see the option with the failure in front of me. Watch and see if your child does the same thing.
post #18 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by pek64 View Post

Responding to the original post and question.
One way to *kill* a stick-to-it attitude is to interrupt, minimize, or otherwise derail the child's natural desire to complete a child task. That means completing the Lego plane, see the end of the movie, finish the book, whatever is important. So unless the there is a *very* good reason to deny the opportunity to complete childish projects when they are young, let them finish. As they get older, the choices of what is important will change, and you should just keep supporting them.
In other words, the trait is already there, just don't destroy it. Look for it, and nurture it instead.

Good advice, in general! People are always waving new things in front of babies and toddlers, picking them up and relocating them with no warning when they are doing something. It always seemed rude and disrespectful to do it for no reason without noticing what the child is doing or looking at. And then people worry about their kids having short attention spans after constantly interrupting them for years. dizzy.gif

post #19 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by moominmamma View Post

 

Ah yes, my first response was coloured by my experience: my eldest two are extreme perfectionists. I often saw them stuck in a form of perfection paralysis, wanting something that I knew was within their grasp developmentally but unwilling to grapple with the steps required along the way to mastery because they knew they weren't assured immediate complete mastery.

This is one of the keys.  Do they want it?  Is it meaningful to them?  Or to the parents?

 

Is it, "stick to these drills because when you are a geezer you are going to be so thankful, I promise"?  (orngtongue.gif Pardon the silliness.)

 

Or is it, like moominmamma's kids, "I see you really want this but are frustrated because to get there it's going to take some work."

 

What are we talking about?  

post #20 of 42
If a perfectionist wants a painted scene and is living with a painter, the perfectionist may want the painter to do the painting, so that the scene will look well done. Is that really different from an adult hiring a carpenter to dobuild a custom bookcase? As adults, we sometimes choose to hire a skilled person, rather than work to master the skills ourselves. Are children so different that we can't believe they would rather have a good end result than new skills?
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