• Maggie Hills

How to Help Your Child Develop “Grit”

James had entered high school with big dreams. The dean’s list, varsity athletics, new friends, all seemed within his grasp. He left home in the mornings confident and returned determined.

Then life started happening. Classes got tougher and straight A’s weren’t as easy to come by. Athletics took up a lot of time, and finding good friends with the time to hang out was a challenge. When James rolled his ankle during practice, it felt like the world was ending. He sat in bed, depressed and unmotivated.

His parents were sympathetic to his struggles. High school is hard! But how to encourage James to persist? James needs what’s called “grit.” According to Grit.org, “grit is mental, physical, and emotional resilience. It's defined as passion and perseverance towards long term goals.” Grit is what you have when you don’t give up in the face of obstacles. Grit is what it takes to achieve what you want in life. Grit keeps you in motion even when you are discouraged.

Grit is a fascinating characteristic. We admire it. We hope our children have it or get it somehow. But it doesn’t come naturally, no one takes classes in grit development, and it is a difficult concept to communicate.

So how do you help your child develop grit?

The good news is that grit is a matter of practice. You (and your child) can actually grow a habit of grit. We may think of grit as sheer determination. And a strong enough grit habit may indeed turn into that kind of admirable perseverance. But it actually starts out a little differently.

Let’s start by looking at what grit has to overcome. You have to have enough grit to resist taking or using or eating or doing what you want when you want it. One of the best examples of this was Standford’s Marshmallow Study. Children were left alone in a room with a big, delicious marshmallow. They were told they could eat the marshmallow now, if they chose, but if they waited until the examiner returned, they would get two marshmallows. That’s a tough choice for a five-year-old.

We can relate. Maybe not in terms of marshmallows, but maybe, for your child, the temptation is Instagram or YouTube rabbit trails or just one more round on a particular video game. It’s hard to see what you want right in front of you and just refuse it with no help beyond outright stubbornness. It’s not very fun. You have to have patience and endure the discomfort of not having what you want now so you can have something better later.

But when you have a plan of action for when the temptation feels like too much, it’s a lot easier to ignore the immediate reward and pursue something that will benefit you more over the long term. Developing grit actually begins with strategies you give yourself or your children to help in delaying gratification.

Here are some means and methods by which you can help your child overcome his more immature impulses and develop grit.

1. Spaced Rewards

This is an excellent method for delaying gratification because it doesn’t delay it for too long. Each time your child successfully completes a step in his goal process, he earns a reward. It’s a great system as long as it is set up properly.

In order to use this strategy, you and your child have to put some work into the beginning. First, defining the goal in clear terms is important. Your child has to be clear where he is going. Then the goal needs to be broken down into smaller pieces and spread out over specific periods of time. Each piece then gets a deadline by when it has to be done. When a deadline is met, a reward is earned!

These deadlines do have to be realistic, and maybe the first few even have to be easy. You want your child to accomplish what he sets out to do, but he also needs to succeed in order to continue moving forward. Finding that happy medium is a bit of a balancing act.

Making your child a part of his own goal setting is important. He needs to take responsibility for achieving what he wants. He knows what goals will motivate him to get to work, and he can better assess when a goal is needed. Remember, this is your child’s goal, not yours. You are there to guide, to help clarify any confusion, and to keep things rational and attainable.

2. Optimal Scheduling

This method is for carving out time to do the specific action that will move your child forward. Sometimes, you child has set a great goal, even come up with a great plan to reach that goal, but he has no time to implement it. Or maybe the time he does have is so small, it would take years for him to get anywhere. Not helpful.

Scheduling in time for goal work is great for those children who sometimes get distracted or whom time can get away from. They benefit from a structured appointment with their goals. They can work hard for a certain period of time and then put their work aside when the time is up knowing they have progressed just that much further. Have your child take part in when is a good time and how long is good for getting where he wants to go. After all, he is the one who is going to be doing the work.

This strategy is particularly effective when your child is trying to build a new habit into his lifestyle like studying a certain amount every night or working out for a half hour a day. Once the action becomes a habit, then it is done automatically. When steps toward a goal are taken as a matter of course, then the goal becomes that much easier to reach.

3. Conveniently Located

This technique is to help your child set up his environment for success so that the steps toward his goal are easier to take. If there is no space in your child’s room to do homework, then buckling down to improve those grades is going to be hard. Or if a massive amount of cleaning is necessary to make space, it might be too overwhelming to start and discourage the good intentions your child has.

If, however, your child begins each week or each day with a clean room and a clear desk space with the writing utensils and computer chargers he is going to need to get a good two hours of studying in every night, those grades are that much closer to becoming a reality.

Additionally, having success pictures or notecards with inspirational sayings to maintain motivation are excellent for when the going gets tough. When your child makes visual encouragements for himself so

he can picture exactly what it means to achieve his goal, he is reminded of why he is delaying gratification and is more likely to persevere.

4. Inspire Belief Yourself

When children see someone else doing something, they are more likely, and more able, to imitate it. You are one of the people that has the biggest influence in your child’s life and one of the people he sees most often. If your child sees you resisting your own impulses and delaying tour own gratification, he is more apt to do the same.

When you have your goal setting meeting with your child, set goals of your own. Break your goals into steps just like he breaking his into steps. Have collective rewards when one of you meets a deadline or reaches a certain level of your goal. Schedule your goal work time at the same time as his. Organize and set up your work spaces together. Doing so provides solidarity and encouragement to your child when you are struggling forward with him.

If your child needs some help in completing his goals, advise him to ask! Spark Tutors is always ready to support goal orientation and achievement in our students. Assessing academic starting points and facilitating small successes are delightful parts of our work, and we would love to support your student in achieving his dreams.


Overcoming obstacles is the only way to move forward, and we hope this article has made that a little bit easier. Embolden yourself and your child to gather courage and try again! We’ll see you at the tutoring table!

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