When it comes to teaching kids how to solve problems or persevere through challenges, we hear the same question - How? 

  • How do I support my child without overstepping or taking over?
  • How do I remind them that it’s okay if things aren’t easy?
  • How do I know if something is truly too hard?

We totally understand - and we see versions of this in every STEM activity we do with kids. A challenge is presented and it’s either met with excitement, anxiety or often a healthy mix of the two. As we dive into each of these questions, we’ll find that teaching grit just takes time, patience and a lot of celebrating along the way!

How do I support my child without overstepping or taking over?

As a former teacher, this is a question I would hear from parents all the time! How do I support my child at home (I’m looking at you, “new math”) without just giving them the answer? And we completely understand - finding the balance between offering support and just giving the answer is a tricky one. The answer actually comes in the form...of questions! 

When they hit a speed bump, ask your child targeted, open ended questions. Something like “Can you show me how you got to this part?” or “What do you think you might try next?” are ways to connect with what your child is doing and open the flow of conversation so they know you’re there when they do need help. Bonus points if you can do this when they aren’t frustrated, so it becomes part of the norm. We love a “Oh my gosh, tell me how you did that!” which tells kids you’re eager to hear and learn from them.

Asking thoughtful questions when the challenge sets in can temporarily take the focus off the tricky part, and focus on the learning process that lead up to this point. Think about a time when you’re faced with a tough situation - you call a friend or colleague to talk it out and halfway through the conversation you figure out a solution?  Same thing can happen here. Something like “Walk me through what you’ve done so far...” can help you to see where they’re stuck and help them realize what their next step should be.

How do I remind them that it’s okay if things aren’t easy?

This brings us to our next question - how do I help my child to understand that a challenge is actually a good thing! As adults (and fans of Kelly Clarkson), we know “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” but that can be hard to communicate to an eight-year-old. Kids, especially those who are used to getting things easily, develop an assumption that easy=good and hard=bad. And we can’t say we blame them!

But in order to develop grit, we need to help shift this mindset. And this is where patience and time are your friends. Understanding your child and how they experience hardship will guide you, but remember that reframing your thinking doesn’t happen overnight, especially in kids. Keeping the focus on their process (try “I am so proud of how hard your brain has been working on this!”) rather than the product or being done will help kids to see the task as a whole, rather than just an answer.

One tip is to reduce the quantity of problems that your child completes and instead focus on the quality of the work. If that means you really dive in but only get through two problems on last night’s homework, drop the teacher a note and share that your focus was on building grit and perseverance - I can guarantee they’ll be thrilled to hear that!

How do I know if something is truly too hard?

So what happens if you’re asking all the right questions, you’re the model of parental patience and staying positive - but things still don’t seem to be clicking? Four easy steps:

  1. Pause and take a deep breath
  2. Acknowledge how they’re feeling
  3. Applaud their efforts so far
  4. Decide on a game plan

We know this is true as adults - there are some things that we are just better at than others. What’s different is that we have the maturity and perspective to see isolated events for what they are - and that’s a skill that is still developing in kids. 

A gentle reminder here to be mindful of your language. Common phrases like “it’s not the end of the world” or “don’t worry about it” can have the opposite effect on kids. Instead, try “I can tell you’re feeling frustrated. Let’s figure out a plan together.” or “You have been working so hard and I am so proud. Let’s take a break and do something to give your brain a rest and then we’ll try it again once you’ve recharged.” 

These conversations go back to the focus on process vs product. Applaud your child for their efforts, acknowledge their feelings and help them to develop a plan to move forward. The more you model this for your child, the sooner they will feel confident enough to try it out independently. And before you know it, they’ll be unstoppable!

Grit isn’t developed overnight, and for most kids, it requires a lot of patience and support. But by asking the right questions, staying positive and knowing when to take a break, your child will develop the skills needed to be able to persevere through anything life throws at them!

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