Resiliency — or grit — isn’t a quality that just emerges overnight.
It’s a trait that we can teach our children from birth. We all experience failure from time to time; the important question is how we handle it.
The Importance of Grit
For parents and educators, teaching children how to face setbacks productively is as critical as ensuring they have enriching educational opportunities. Arming our kids with the tools to get back up when they don’t succeed enables them to continue moving forward — even when the setback is a college rejection.
In a 2013 TED Talk, psychologist Angela Duckworth described her research on student outcomes, explaining: “One characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn't social intelligence. It wasn't good looks, physical health, and it wasn't IQ. It was grit.”
Duckworth and her co-authors have defined grit as “passion and perseverance towards long-term goals.” They have also developed a "grit scale" to measure and predict academic success. She has even considered whether, one day, GPA, SAT score, and other measures that colleges use to evaluate applicants will be replaced by a grit score in the admissions process.
Educator Vicki Davis, in a 2014 blog post she wrote for Edutopia, cited the Character Education Partnership’s work on character development, describing the division of character into two categories: core ethical values and performance values. She characterized grit as a “performance value” and argued that it can be taught.
How, you may wonder, do parents and teachers encourage grit in children? In a 2013 Observer article, authors Angela Duckworth and Lauren Eskreis-Winklerin cited Duckworth’s and Carol Dweck’s research to suggest steps that show promise in teaching kids grit:
Encouraging them to work hard toward challenges Urging them to maintain long-term effort and interest in the face of setbacks, difficulties, or breaks in progress Positioning failures as opportunities to learn and improve Showing children how to postpone gratification Using an “optimistic explanatory style” to frame positive events as arising from enduring, universal causes and negative events as resulting from short-term, particular causes
Grit and the College Rejection
College admissions responses may begin to arrive as early as November for early applicants, and regular and rolling decisions continue into April and beyond. Kids will receive email notifications from each school as decisions are sent out. Knowing that your child may be alone when she receives this important news can leave a hollow feeling in your stomach. Some families create an agreement to read the emails together; in others, kids will want to absorb each decision in private.
Modeling and Encouraging Grit
It’s important to manage your own reaction and to watch your child to see how she reacts. Clearly, acceptances are satisfying. If your child receives a rejection, however, you can help her apply the principles of grit that she’s developed to handle the disappointment. Respond with empathy, and if necessary, remind her that she’s overcome setbacks before and that she has the skills to cope with this one. Allow her to take the lead in considering her options, and guide her toward pursuing one or more of these alternative paths if her feelings become overwhelming.
Here are a few concrete things you can do to help your child strengthen her own coping skills:
Present this setback as an opportunity to learn and grow. If, for instance, your child still has applications yet to be sent out, ensure that she does an honest assessment of her unsuccessful applications — and that she makes improvements wherever possible. If she was waitlisted, encourage her to send follow-up materials that will strengthen her case for admission.
Frame the rejection in terms of fit. Help your child focus on the fit of the schools to which she has been — or may yet be — accepted. Even in the highly unlikely scenario that she is rejected from all of the colleges she applied to, she still has a great many options. Help her stay focused on the future.
Encourage her to continue excelling in school. Not only will excellence be gratifying for her, but avoiding senioritis will help ensure that her acceptances remain as enthusiastically extended as they were initially offered.
As adolescents enter adulthood, these coping skills will prove vital in enabling them to pursue their passions with persistence and satisfaction. By using the tenets of grit, parents can provide children with the tools to cope with small and large hurdles — even the heartbreaking setback of college rejection.
CEP. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2015, from character.org.
College Acceptance – or Rejection – Letters: Ten Ways Parents Can Help Students Cope. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2015, from College Parents of America.
Cronin, A. (2014, January 13). Resilience and Grit: Resource Roundup. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from Edutopia.
Davis, V. (2014, January 9). True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from Edutopia.
Duckworth, A. (2013, April 1). The key to success? Grit. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from TED.
Duckworth, A. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 92(6), 1087–1101.
Duckworth, A., & Eskreis-Winkler, L. (2013). True Grit. Observer, 26(4). Retrieved February 21, 2015, from Association for Psychological Science.
Hoerr, T. (2012). Principal Connection: Got Grit? Education Leadership, 69(6), 84-85. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from ACSD.
Prudente, K. (2014, June 3). Get Informed. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from Child Mind Institute.