A Message from the Head of Senior Years

14 September 2017

As we move towards the end of term, I would like to share some snippets from an article by parenting expert Michael Grose titled True GRIT helps kids succeed. In the article, Grose argues developing character is just as important to a child’s future success as building academic skills. Grose writes:

“Talent or persistence. Which would you choose for your child?

I often ask this question at my parenting seminars and the responses are fascinating. Parents naturally want both. Sorry, but that’s not an option.

When pushed, most parents choose talent over persistence which, in many ways, reflects the current thinking around achievement. Intelligence, sporting prowess and ability, in whatever it is we value, will only get a child or young person so far. Talent is purely potential. They need more than this to achieve sustained excellence in anything they do.

Character matters

Many recent studies (most notably the work of US-based Angela Duckworth) have found that character, not cognitive ability, is the single most reliable determinant of how a person’s life will turn out. These traits include the inclination to persist at a boring task (grit); the ability to delay gratification (self-control); and the tendency to follow through with a plan (conscientiousness), which are invaluable traits at school, in the workplace and in life in general.

Character is forged under difficulty

The key character traits of grit, self-control and conscientiousness are forged under hardship and duress. This makes our current propensity to over protect and over-indulge kids problematic. When kids continually experience easy success we set them up for failure, because when they finally face up to difficult situations, many lack the capacity to push through the tough times.

Encouraging kids to step out of their comfort zones and take learning and social risks is one of the great challenges for modern parents. It’s critical that we challenge children and young people to attempt activities where failure is a significant option. Overcoming setbacks and pushing through difficulties is how character is formed.

Character is malleable

It’s important to establish in your own mind as a parent, and also in your children’s minds, that character traits such as grit, self-control and conscientiousness can be developed. To this end it’s important that parents steer clear of using absolute language to label behaviour and express views that traits and abilities are fixed. Comments such as ‘You’re no good at math’ become a rule that young people learn to live by, and become default thinking that’s hard to budge.

Make grit part of a family’s brand

Parents can actively promote grit and persistence in kids by making character part of their family’s brand. They can focus on character in conversations. They can share experiences where character paid off for them in their lives. They can discuss how character contributes to excellence and success in everyday life including at work, at school and in the sporting field.

Build proprietary language around character

Parents should reflect on the language and terms they already use and build key phrases and terms around the following key character strengths: grit, self-control, conscientiousness, enthusiasm, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.

Character becomes the default mechanism

…In the long run conscientiousness serves a young person well when it’s their default because when the stakes are high and they really need to work hard, they will automatically make the right choice. In fact, it will be the only option they see when excellence really matters.”

Ms Tonia Gloudemans
Head of Senior Years

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