We all have off days, right? We make a mistake at work or we do something embarrassing in front of our friends. As adults, we have the tools for coping with difficult situations in a healthy way—we’ve found our inner grit.
But for children, part of their development is facing those tough situations and learning how to work through them. If they fall on the playground, or an arts and crafts project isn’t working the way they want it to, it might be hard for them to express that feeling in a healthy way or to know how to work through it.
We spoke with two professionals about childhood development, the signs to look out for in a child’s emotional maturity development, and how best to help them in those moments.
“Grit is the ability to recognize your feelings on a situation, calm oneself, and then problem solve,” says Amy Keirle. “It’s being okay asking for help. I see many children experience trauma in their home lives. They have been raised seeing tumultuous relationships and grit is not being modeled in a healthy way.”
Keirle received her Bachelors in Education at Miami University in 2009. She currently teaches Kindergarten in Cincinnati. “Children also need grit for their first school experience. They will encounter new adults they have to trust and follow, new children to build relationships, new physical space, and new scheduling. This may be the first time they adhere to community and group expectations.”
Dr. Hilary Kalra agrees. “Grit not only encompasses the social-emotional skills necessary for a child to persevere through traumatic or painful events, but also through challenges such as a difficult school project, a particularly unpleasant chore, or a new sport or a musical instrument.”
Dr. Kalra is a School Psychologist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She received her BA in Psychology from Miami University and her PhD in School Psychology from the University of Cincinnati. “By learning to persevere through daily obstacles that they face, children will begin to cultivate the skills necessary to face trying circumstances that they may face throughout their lives.”
“Parents and caretakers should constantly be working on a child’s grit development,” says Keirle. “To be independent and successful, you have to be able to adapt to new people and situations. It’s a guarantee that problems will arise in our lives and we have to learn the appropriate way to handle them.”
“Unlike a child's math and reading skills or their bone and muscle growth, which can be assessed easily and often, it is difficult, if not impossible, to measure a child's development of grit,” says Dr. Karla. “This is because grit is a more abstract social-emotional skill that is made up of various other skills.
“Furthermore, all children will face different types of challenging circumstances at different times in their lives, so one child's development of the skills relating to grit will never match another's. Rather than focusing on a child's rate at which they develop skills associated with grit, it may be more beneficial for parents, teachers and caretakers to focus on providing children with opportunities to develop and practice these skills. For example, adults can encourage children to finish the projects that they start, to be open-minded toward feedback, and to maintain an optimistic attitude in the face of challenging tasks.”
“Adults can help children learn these skills is by modeling them when they encounter difficult situations in their own lives,” says Dr. Karla. “In addition, adults can assist children in developing grit by allowing them to face ‘productive struggles’ in safe environments.
“For example, parents can allow children to persevere through a difficult assignment at school or encourage them to stick with their music lessons. Although it is difficult for adults to watch children face difficult circumstances, it is necessary when encouraging the development of grit. In allowing children to work through these types of challenges when adults are there to give assistance, adults can help children develop the skills necessary to independently face more trying circumstances as they grow older. Reassuring children that adults are there to help them solve problems will help children feel empowered when tackling difficult situations as they arise.”
Keirle says, “Literature! In my classroom, I use picture books to teach every social emotional topic. Students can see examples in these books and then we discuss how does this relate to us and our classroom, environment, etc. I also like emotion pictures/cards so if a child cannot verbalize their feelings right away, they can point to a picture then in time explain why they feel this way. I believe it is all about giving kids the correct language to express themselves.”
Here are some other ways to help children become more gritty, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Psychological Association (APA):
Develop fun routines such as bedtime stories that your child can count on.
Encourage your child to help other people, pets, and living things.
Teach self-care such as healthy eating, exercise, and sleep.
Help your child accept that feelings such as sadness and pain are temporary and normal.
Gritty Kitty, written by Dr. John Hutton and illustrated by Christina Brown, helps both parents and children understand grit, and how to overcome difficult, important obstacles. On sale September 3rd, available for pre-order now.