Confident little girl wearing a superhero outifit


Grit has been described as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” with an “unyielding courageousness in the face of hardship.” Psychologist Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth and her research team found that “grit is the strongest predictor for success…over and beyond IQ and conscientiousness.” While I’m sure we all have different definitions of success, let’s leverage the concept of grit for emotional wellness. 

Here I’ve used G.R.I.T. as an acronym to suggest ways to develop it, as well as address some of the many areas I target in session with young children as a psychotherapist. Whether the diagnosis is Anxiety, Adjustment Disorder, or ADHD, many of the children I see present with mental inflexibility, angry outbursts, fear avoidance or self-doubt. The sound of “no,” change in plans, nonpreferred tasks, or transitions tend to cue big feelings, disproportionate reactions, a digging-in or a giving-up. At the same time, this reveals a passionate and persistent, assertive or pensive nature we can positively foster through the following areas:

G: Growth Mindset

Growth Mindset, in contrast to Fixed Mindset, is a self-compassionate, process-oriented attitude that embraces flexible thinking and learning with an open mind. Individuals who embrace a growth mindset approach rather than avoid challenges, interpret feedback as constructive information rather than critical evaluation, find other’s success inspiring rather than intimidating, and view mistakes as opportunities to learn rather than failures. 

Here are 5 children’s books that inspire Growth Mindset: 

  • A Little Spot of Flexible Thinking by Diane Alber
  • Growth Mindset Ninja by Mary Nhin
  • Your Thoughts Matter: Growth Mindset by Esther Pia Cordova 
  • It’s My Way or the Highway: Turning Bossy into Flexible and Assertive by Julia Cook
  • The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett & Gary Rubinstein 

R: Resilient  

Pediatrician Dr. Ginsburg identified 7 C’s of Resilience– Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, Contribution, Coping and Control. As a Creative Arts Therapist myself, I’ll propose an eighth—Creativity. It is key for problem solving! Resilience may seem quite broad and vague; to strengthen it, try targeting these 8 areas while positively reinforcing process over product, effort over outcome.    

I: Inquisitive 

Asking questions can deepen understanding and awareness. Get curious (not furious)! Ask: What does this feeling reveal about what I value or need in this moment? What is this behavior communicating? Is there an alternative explanation to the story I’m telling myself? Is this fact or feeling? What would I say to a friend in this situation? I encourage you to be a “think partner” to your children. Teach them how (not what) to think. Turn worry into wonder!

T: Tolerant 

Tolerance is our ability to manage difficult feelings and more quickly equilibrate from a state of overwhelm. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy has a module dedicated to distress tolerance with catchy acronyms that you may reference as a how-to. In sum, this approach encourages taking a mindful break to breathe, exercise or relax, and soothe with the senses. It encourages finding meaning, taking perspective, avoiding comparisons, making contributions, and accepting what we cannot control. Practice sitting with uncomfortable feelings, both yours and your children’s. This may decrease a sense of urgency. Resist the urge to overly accommodate or avoid, shut down, or solve for anger, anxiety, and sadness. All feelings are ok!   

GRIT: Growth Mindset, Resilience, Inquisitive, Tolerant.

What approach will you take to develop grit in your family?

*For additional thoughts on this topic, you too may reference the following sources: “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth, “The 7 C’s of Resilience” by Dr. Karen Gallaty with CBT Professionals Psychology Clinic, and “DBT Distress Tolerance Skills Guide to Navigate Emotional Crises” by Sunrise Residential Treatment Program.