Tomorrow we will say farewell to our 8th graders as they graduate Yavneh Academy. As I say goodbye and wish them luck, I envision them as young adults who in a few more years will come back to visit us when in high school or college. I look forward to these visits each year as I get so much nachat from seeing the incredible human beings they become. One of my favorite times of year is when we run a program for our 8th graders when we invite alumni in to run sessions on what high school is truly like, as we did this past Friday. I felt like a proud “mama” as I called Rabbi Knapp on his cell and said, “You need to come down here to see our alumni and get some nachat!”
What was the secret that took those excited and nervous 8th graders and made them successes in high school and beyond? Rebecca Jackson, in her January article “Parenting Determines Who Graduates College,” presented a recent Pew research study, (along with Brown University School of Medicine, Brandeis University, National Children’s Medical Center and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology), which investigated parenting styles and their impact on graduates’ success. They found that a parenting style that “focuses on building persistence, as opposed to more traditional models that focus on discipline” was more effective.
The study focused on two areas of difference in parenting- in areas of persistence, (commonly called “grit”) and obedience. Parents who stress obedience “lash out” and punish more, but do not establish rules. Without rules, children are unable to acquire “a healthy level of confidence in their decision-making abilities.” They also “develop no emotional attachment to their goals, making it unlikely they’ll persist when faced with obstacles.” In highly educated households- i.e. where parents and children were college graduates, more parents ranked persistence as the most important value. They pursue goals regardless of challenges- “grit.” Children with grit are 40% more likely to have “emotional balance” and 60% are more likely to get good grades.
What kind of parenting style promotes and raises children with grit? Empowerment parenting. As opposed to traditional parenting that focuses on obedience with little explanation for rules and little communication, empowerment parenting does not emphasize correcting or punishing unwanted behavior. Rather, it focuses on confidence in the child to make his own choices. It promotes positive reinforcement for effort, which stimulates motivation and persistence. Grit has been found to be a better indicator of future success and happiness than either IQ or talent. Even children who are talented and intelligent and come from wonderful homes do not succeed if they cannot work hard, and persevere through challenge and failure.
Interestingly enough, the faculty at Yavneh has also been focusing on grit throughout the year. We began the year with an In-service presenter who shared some practical ideas of how to “grow grit” in our students. When we praise them for effort and not for the end product we encourage grit. When we let them know that an activity is challenging, but challenge is good- we help them grow grit. We began circulating a Mindset Monthly newsletter to the teachers with practical ideas for use in our classrooms in this area. We have been asking teachers to hang posters and phrases in their rooms which encourage grit and posted them in the newsletter. Posters like, “It’s not about whether I get knocked down, it’s about whether I get up” have been appearing in classrooms. Next time you visit the school, look for our “gritty” posters which will soon be hung in the hallways to celebrate our year-long focus on grit development in our students.
So, how do we grow grit? In her article “What Is Grit, Why Kids Need It, and How You Can Foster It” she quotes the grit guru, Dr. Angela Duckworth in her book…
1. In her house they have a “Hard Thing Rule” which means than everyone at home has to be working on something that is hard for him at any given time. It has to require “deliberate practice daily,” but can be chosen by the family member. No one is allowed to quit because he feels it’s too hard. The learning process is not always fun, but the end result makes it worth it.
2. Duckworth quotes another expert in this area, Dr. Carole Dweck, who focuses on the importance of helping our children have a “growth mindset” in achieving grit. People with a growth mindset realize that failure is not permanent and hard work part of the process. People with “fixed mindsets” on the other hand, believe talent is innate and give up easily since they believe they cannot change how they were born. Duckworth suggests letting your children see that even experts have to practice and work hard. They just make it look easy- but it isn’t at all.
3. We need to show our children that we too take risks to achieve our goals, and we don’t give up. We need to talk about our failures in front of our children.
4. We need to recognize effort, “Wow, you are working so hard at this!” And, we need to resist stepping in when they are struggling. Relay the message that they can do it.
5. Let us talk to children about famous people who failed after many failures and rejections. In Advisory, when focusing on grit, we spoke about Thomas Edison, Dr. Seuss and even Michael Jordan who at first failed. We need to show them real examples of failure and allowing them to fail. Paul Tough, in his New York Times article “The Secret To Success is Failure” writes, “It is a central paradox of contemporary parenting, in fact: we have an acute almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both large and small. And yet we all know- on some level- at least- that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves they can.”
As we our graduates walk down the aisle tomorrow, we hope that we have raised “gritty graduates” who have grown and gained during their years at Yavneh. Mazel Tov to all!