Q: Our daughter's second-grade teacher says she gives up too easily and needs to develop "grit." That sounds so negative, like gritting teeth! Who wants to put a 7-year-old under that kind of pressure?
A: Think positive. Grit -- the ability to persevere over time to overcome a challenge and achieve a goal -- is a hot topic from the ivory tower to the teachers' lounge.
Compelling research has educators and parents rethinking the role of praise in motivation and what constitutes "too much" pressure.
Stanford researcher Carol Dweck has shown that overpraising has negative affects. University of Nebraska psychologist Richard Dienstbier founds that routine stresses, such as dealing with a tough teacher, can make students stronger.
University of Pennsylvania researcher Angie Duckworth established the importance of grit in school achievement and says it's a better indicator of success than IQ or family income.
In his book, "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character" (Mariner Books, 2013), Paul Tough explains that grit combines several traits: motivation, a strong desire to achieve a goal; self-control, knowing how to focus and avoid distractions; goal-orientation, knowing where one's headed and having a plan to get there; and a growth mindset, a belief that one's abilities can be developed through effort and hard work.
If grit is good, then how can parents develop it?
-- Start early: The late parent educator Dorothy Rich, author of "MegaSkills: Building Our Children's Character and Achievement for School and Life" (Sourcebooks, 2008), called effort and perseverance two of 12 "megaskills" that could be taught to preschoolers. She encouraged such activities as structured dramatic play in which children learn self-control and focus by staying in character.
-- Model it; talk about it: Show how you demonstrate perseverance, whether restoring a home or getting an advanced degree.
Read children's books that showcase grit. Biographies of heroes such as Teddy Roosevelt and Rosa Parks give kids opportunities to talk about what they value, fear and want to achieve. "Folk tales are also a great way to spur those conversations," says reading expert Keith Garton, publisher of "Tales of Honor," a series about bravery, devotion and perseverance (Red Chair Press, 2013).
-- Encourage kids to set their own goals: "Too often parents set goals for their children. Teach them how to define their own goals that relate to their interests. Show them how to anticipate obstacles and lay out a plan that prioritizes time and resources to achieve them," says Bill Laraway, a fifth-grade teacher at Silver Oak Elementary in San Jose, Calif. "Kids should know this process by the end of fifth grade."
-- Make it OK to fail: Don't shelter kids from messing up, says Laraway. "Mistakes teach us -- motivate us -- to try again and do it better."
For more information, check out the free webinar "Got Grit? Help Your Child Develop a Sense of Perseverance" (parentfurther.com/webinars/got-grit). And watch Angela Duckworth's TED Talk, "The Key to Success? Grit," at ted.com.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)