Teaching Your Child Character: Grit

by kate on January 31, 2021

Oh, if only my Dad were alive to read this. Seriously. If he had one refrain to capture my teenage-hood it would be “finish what you started,” sung in a Metallica pounding anthem way and decidedly not a Broadway play, uplifting way.

Finish what you started
Finish what you started
Finish what you started

And that’s the definition of grit. Long term payoff after hard work. Persistence.

On the bright side, I know this character trait intimately and while yes, I sometimes quit mid-stream because it gets too hard, usually I feel the thumping in my brain of his words and I soldier on. To finish! What I started!

Although, and I’m sorry to say this Dad, that the browbeating way isn’t typically the most effective way to teach grit. Intermittent praise works wonders. As does having it yourself.

See, grit is best shown by example. As my child sees me scrubbing the fingernail polish off of the bathroom floor, scrub scrub scrub, she can see that it’s suuuuuper hard to get off but I’m stiiiiiill scrubbing. Or, when we had a back yard in France and the walnut tree dropped all it’s donuts and leaves (my 2 year old heard ‘walnuts’ as ‘donuts’ so we called it the tree that dropped donuts - if only!), I’d rake and rake only to find more droppings the next day. It was unending and nun-too-easy. But I did it. Every day.

Or simply getting up and going to work. Every. Day.

Ambition shines through.

Kids can sniff out persistence, too. They can tell when you really don’t want to be doing something but you are sticking to it to see it through. They can also tell when you don’t want to be doing something pertaining to them and you aren’t really present doing it…that’s a different story.

Back to grit, though. There are many ways to point out grit in the broader world, too. Ants struggling with really big bread crumbs. Gophers digging all those holes. Roots growing up and around fences, sidewalks and other trees. While not a typical classroom, the natural world offers many ways to ‘teach’ kids how to over come great odds.

Think of all the super heroes that overcome great odds to do their super hero work. That’s grit. Hello kryptonite! But Superman prevailed, right? Eventually anyway.

Let’s not forget about our ancestors. American pioneers who left hearth and home for only a glimmer of something more, tackling mountain ranges, vast oceans, and family expectations. Just think of all the stories you can weave around grit.

And that’s the point. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Great slogan!

In a more 21st century way, as a parent you can model grit materialistically, too. Instead of replacing a torn stuffed animal, dig out the needle and thread and perform surgery. Enlist your little one’s help as a nurse. Replace fallen off wheels, tape up book pages. Let your belongings mirror what it’s like to get up and dust off, to not always be shiny and new. Doing this might even help foster a conversation about not being perfect, about acceptance, warts and all…not exactly grit but not bad either.

Up next week: cultivating your internal Secret Service Agency.

photo credit: Esparta

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Carly at living The Scream January 31, 2021 at 10:18 am

I think this is a good article. I like the idea of fixing things instead of going out and just buying something new. These are important things to teach our kids! Hard work can be a good thing. :)

Julie C. January 31, 2021 at 2:38 pm

I agree. And it seems that sometimes finishing what you start can be just one of the most impossible things ever, and I struggle with that a lot. Whether it’s starting to clean out the closet and giving up halfway, or starting a craft project, and sometimes even a work project … seeing it though to the end can be brutal. But absolutely rewarding for sure. Kids need to see that by example.

busy kids=happy mom March 21, 2021 at 4:57 am

Perseverance! It’s so each to just give up! I recently told my son to go throw something away (if you must know, it was itchy underwear!) He couldn’t believe I’d given up on trying to make it work! I believe in helping my kids see through even the hardest tasks and not giving up. This is a quality that will help them all through life too.

kate March 29, 2021 at 2:54 pm

If you had to rate yourself on grit, answering “I finish whatever I begin” to “I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one,” which one would you choose? I know which one I’d like to answer, but would it be true?!? Dunno.

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