The Importance of Messing Up: Grit

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Categories Attitude, Feeling Overwhelmed, Parenting, School-Age, Talking to Kids, Time ManagementTags , 5 Comments

My little girls messed up big time this week. I happen to think that this was a good thing. It gave both of them a chance to come up with their own solutions to the problem, a skill far more valuable in life than doing things right the first time. Oh, how the Type A in me has been tamed by motherhood!

As I understand it, the psychological term for the characteristic I value is grit. I want my children to have tenacity in the face of adversity. I want them to be able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try a different way. I do wish there was a way for them to develop that without ever getting hurt, but I know that life doesn’t work that way.

Our kids need to be allowed to make mistakes. It's the only way they'll learn how to deal with them.

School Teaches More Than Academics

I don’t worry too much about whether my daughters, now in 3rd grade, are learning what they should, academically speaking, at school. I know that they are.

M, J and I have a wonderful ongoing dialogue about what they learn. We find ways to explore concepts that they’ve found particularly interesting or that need a bit more oomph to be an intellectual challenge. Both girls love to talk about math and what they’ve been reading. Social studies is deeply interesting to J, although M needs a little more encouragement to discuss what she’s learned. Science takes more effort, mostly because they’re learning it in Spanish and don’t always have the English vocabulary to discuss the details.

What we spend most of our time discussing about school, though, has little to do with my daughters’ classes and assignments. Instead, far more of our effort goes into dealing with the social, problem-solving, and administrative aspects of school.

We talk a lot about relationships. We’ve discussed how to balance friendships. We’ve defined where the boundaries are when it comes to being the peacemaker between classmates who aren’t getting along. We often talk about when to try to work out conflicts without adult intervention and when to seek help. Recently. J observed that the boys and girls in her class sit at opposite ends of the lunch table and she has taken on a mission to reintegrate the genders.

Both M and J are phenomenal problem solvers. M is a strong manager of relationships and J is extraordinary. They’re both absolutely terrible at staying organized.

These kids would forget to take their heads to school if they weren’t attached. I’m pretty certain that there’s a daily stream of fallen paper marking the way from their classroom to our front door. Permission slips, homework, pencils, party invitations. You name it, J and M are experts at losing it.

Can you guess how many jackets my twins lost between them the winter before last? Seven. How do you lose that many jackets when there’s a Lost and Found that we check weekly?! How did I ever allow myself to buy them that many jackets?

Organization is what we work on at home. Organization is what they work on in class. Their second grade homeroom teacher once described my girls as typical absent-minded professors. She nailed it. Thank goodness the teachers at their school put the effort into helping M and J, instead of letting them slide because of their academic talents.

What Happened This Week: Problem 1

One of the programs that my daughters’ school offers to challenge and engage high performers is the Independent Study Project. They do 2-3 of these each year. All of the students in the Talented and Gifted program participate, but so do other standouts who might not qualify for TAG but still need an extra something. Some projects need to relate to a theme, but at least one is a Passion Project on a topic of the child’s choosing.

The Independent Study project was due today. The third graders have had intermediate deadlines, needing to turn in, in order:

  1. A brainstormed list of possible topics.
  2. A selected topic.
  3. A mind-map of ideas and research findings.
  4. An outline for the paper.
  5. A five-paragraph essay.

The teacher emailed all these deadlines to the parents and has made sure that the students are aware of them. I made sure that my daughters knew that they, and they alone, were responsible for meeting the deadlines. I would help if help were requested, but managing the project was up to each of them.

At 8:12 last night, after a good hour of conversation and reading to each other, J’s face fell.

J: My ISP is due tomorrow.
Sadia: Oh? Didn’t I ask you if you had finished your homework as soon as you got home?
J: I forgotted.
M: I forgot too. Oh no! I’m going to get an F. I’m going to get an F!
Sadia: Can you finish getting ready for bed and finish your project in 18 minutes.
J: No! I can’t do it!
M: I’m going to fail!
Sadia: Here’s the deal. Bedtime is 8:30. Period. You can tell Mrs. O that you forgot. Alternately, you can find a creative solution. Staying up late is out of the question.

Much to my surprise, M, usually the higher strung of my daughters, took a deep breath.

M: I’m going to set an alarm for 4:00 am.
J: Wake me too.

I let M set an alarm on my iPad and put it under her pillow.

What Happened This Week: Problem 2

We went to bed on schedule, but J woke me around 1:00 am. She was wide awake and thinking about her project, so I gave her permission to work on it, with the understanding that she would go back to sleep when she was done. I gave her my iPad to use to log into her school-provided Google Drive account to retrieve her outline.

At 6:00 am, I woke to my backup alarm ringing on my phone. I woke M, who began to get ready for her day, berating herself for having slept through the 4:00 am alarm.

While M was brushing her teeth, I heard an alarm go off on my iPad in the living room. J had forgotten to return it to M’s pillow, thus preventing her sister from waking early to finish her assignment. As soon as I pointed out what happened, J felt awful. She knew that she both owed her sister an enormous apology and needed to explain what had happened to their teacher.

Once again, M surprised me. She had no anger at all, instead comforting her sister. She got ready for school in record time and by 6:10 was at her desk, writing. By 6:45, she had finished her essay and handed it to me to review. I found a missing period, and that was that.

My 8-year-old had faced the consequences of her own forgetfulness and her sister’s, forgiven, problem-solved and met her goal. I would have preferred better scheduling in the first place to avoid all the high stress and procrastination, but I was pretty proud of my gritty girls nonetheless.

How do you encourage grit in your children?

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