MAMMA’S DIARY – DIARIO DI MAMMA
As my son grew into a toddler, he showed interest in puzzles. He had delayed speech, and back then he never spoke a word while fiddling with the pieces. But I saw the wheels turning in his mind. Concentrating, he would struggle to figure out how to fill each hole in the puzzle. Each time that quizzical expression appeared on his face I was tempted to show him exactly where to put everything. Each time I resisted temptation to save the day.
Without realizing it, I was already beginning to take part in grit-style parenting, an old approach that is new again. Grit-style parenting refers to allowing children to face and grapple with failure. Some parenting experts are suggesting that this philosophy will be one of the big parenting trends of 2017.
“We want the best for our kids, and there’s been a generation shift that we clear the path before them—that we should instill in our kids the certainty that they’ll be the best at whatever they’re trying to achieve,” writes Carly Carioli, director of Content for Care.com, an organization dedicated to matching people with caregivers for children, pets, seniors, and their homes. “And there are times where that approach minimizes the inevitability of failure.”
For years now parents have been pushed into what some have described as coddling. The idea was that being helpful and providing positive reinforcement and, yes, those participant trophies was the best way to raise successful adults. But that’s not exactly realistic. And the backlash has been evident for some time now.
In 2015, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison took to Instagram to announce he was going to have his sons return their participation trophies in protest of this idea that they were entitled to a reward for trying their best. While Carioli reminds that Harrison took some criticism for “being too harsh,” he also says that the sentiment resonated with many others. Indeed, the pendulum seems to be swinging in the other direction. Now, people are wondering out loud whether protecting kids from failure is actually a good idea.
What most grandparents will tell you is that they learned more from their mistakes than any handily won successes. If we keep removing challenges and obstacles for our children, how will they ever learn to deal with hardship? Won’t they just give up whenever things get too hard? Things are getting too hard. We can’t all just walk away. We have to prepare them. It’s our responsibility.
Indeed, Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (Scribner, May 2016), has described her father’s unedited honesty as a motivator for her success. Her father would say she wasn’t a genius or she wasn’t a Picasso, and she would think, “I’ll show him,” she explains in the Guardian. It worked. Now, she is fleshing out a softer grit-style approach to parenting. Through her studies, she says being a role model is the cornerstone of this approach to raising kids.
“If you want to bring forth grit in your child, first ask how much passion and perseverance you have for your own life goals,” writes Duckworth in her book. “Then ask yourself how likely it is that your approach to parenting encourages your child to emulate you. If the answer to the first question is ‘a great deal,’ and your answer to the second is ‘very likely’ you’re already parenting for grit.”
In addition to encouraging your children to follow your example, you can also help them study their passions. “It helps to find an activity they love, whether it’s playing a sport or learning a musical instrument,” writes Carioli. “Once you find that passion, help them to value practice. Nobody is a professional at the beginning of their learning curve, so you’re showing them that frustration is a part of learning something new, and the only way to get better is to work at it.”
Sharing your own stories of failure and opening the lines of communication are also helpful ways to introduce grit-style parenting to your family. This might take time. As I’ve mentioned, my son had speech delays. Sometimes, when he was first starting to speak, I would want to jump in and respond to questions for him or help him finish sentences. It was the worst thing I could do. He needed to find his voice. I needed to shut up. He needed to make mistakes and realize they would not cause the end of the world. When I finally zipped my mouth and let him go, I was better off and so was he.
Now, this is not to say that I want people to act as drill sergeants with their kids, nor do I want people to take this as an excuse to verbally or mentally abuse children. But a little grit-style parenting – laying off the participation trophies, actually allowing kids to experience healthy competition, letting them lose once in a while or work out a problem on their own – might not hurt. After all, grit is great, especially if you want to raise someone who can overcome whatever challenges are thrown at them.
Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10. For more handmade crafts and party gear, visit the Italian Mamma store on Etsy.