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Success Requires Grit and Resilience

We need to get a whole lot better at helping young people develop the ability to delay gratification in the pursuit of future rewards.
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Parents often wonder what they can do to boost the likelihood that their kids will grow into successful adults. One thing that doesn't help is when parents, fearful of dealing with their children's emotions, give in to "quick fixes" for getting their child to be calm or happy.

Author and pediatrician Dr. Ken Ginsburg points out that young people gain resilience when "an adult believes in them unconditionally and holds them to high expectations." He notes that "adolescents are harmed by both unfairly low and impossibly high expectations... and that they need to develop the capacity to realistically assess situations so they do not incorporate self-destructive messages or view uncomfortable situations as true crises." To do this, young people need their parents to hold steady in the face of high emotional reactivity, set limits and follow through with consequences.

There is a mounting body of research that supports these notions. University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth highlights "that it's resilience, not IQ, that is the best predictor of success." Duckworth has developed the Grit Scale and identifies the quality of grit as being central to long-term success. Grit, that ability to persevere, work hard and overcome adversity, develops from allowing young people to struggle with the process of learning, encouraging them to be curious, enabling them to discover effective ways of managing their stress and fears and rewarding them for efforts and striving for excellence, rather than perfection.

Coming at the question of success from a different angle, Yale Law Professors Amy Chua and husband Jed Rubenfeld cite research from diverse immigrant groups to identify significant traits that propel success in American children. Their findings also support the character quality of grit as key. Interestingly, they report:

For all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex -- a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite -- insecurity, a feeling that you or what you've done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.

What's the lesson here for all parents? It's that we need to get a whole lot better at helping young people develop the ability to delay gratification in the pursuit of future rewards. We need to learn from the mistakes of the so-called "self-esteem movement" and stop believing that we are doing our children a service when we reward them "just-because," rather than for earned effort and accomplishments. And we need to get way better at dealing with our own emotions so that we manage our fears and support ourselves to tolerate kids not liking us at times. Their success depends upon us parents, strengthening our own form of grit -- "parental grit."

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