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Parent-led guidance for developing grit in children








By Michael Hawton

19th November, 2019

I’ve been reading about how childhood anxiety can be exacerbated by how parents model their own anxiety to a child.  Indeed, according to what I’m hearing from school leaders, more parents are coming up to schools, over smaller and smaller matters. However, the opposite must also be true. I’ve been also reading about how parents can assist their children to cope with stress by a series of modest interventions that can make big differences to a child’s capacity to cope. Parents can take simple steps to develop grit in children.

There are now several studies to show that if parents are directed to read a book on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or if we ask parents to attend a CBT-like parenting program (so they know how to respond to their child’s anxiety) that these two types of intervention are as good as the success gained by seeing a psychologist. (See a Yale study in the references section.)

In their work on how to build up a capacity for ‘grit’, Anderson and her colleagues describe how through a series of questions or comments made by parents, parents can help a child to develop grit.  This is both by using a short-game strategy (what the parent says in any one moment) and a long-game strategy (what the parent repeats to build capacity over time).

Yeager and Walton (2011) think that a sizeable number of micro-interventions by parents can have large and lasting effects.  They say, “subtle and explicit messages from instructors (parents or teachers) repeated over time can affect children’s beliefs about the malleability of personal characteristics.” In other words, what a parent or teacher says in the moment a child experiences an anxious reaction, can have lasting effects.

So, what does all of this mean for parents?

The first thing is to recognise that our job role vis-à-vis your child is to be the director, especially when they are under 8.  And yes, I mean to direct – as in ‘teach’ or ‘show’ them by commentating on what they do - and not tolerating distorted thinking.  Directing can involve giving corrective feedback or questioning the validity of a distorted view, such as when they treat something as fact (when it’s not). For example, “You know you could have let your initial reluctance to go to that party get the better of you. But, you went anyway. From the way that you spoke about how it went, it seems that you made a good call.”

Second, it means that you’ll make it family policy to not base any decisions on emotional reasoning.  This is reasoning where a person decides if it feels bad, it is bad. Feelings are not good evidence and parents need to help children to wrangle with feelings so that they don’t base important decisions on how they feel.

Here are a few family policy one-liners:

  • We don’t do drama here!

  • What other people think of me, is none of my business.

  • Not my circus, not my monkeys (this is not a problem I need to worry about)

There are many more than just these. But, the main message is that if we can focus on helping a child to work ‘on’ life, as opposed to be ‘in’ life, she will learn skills to stem anxiety for themselves over time.  Developing in a child her capacity to respond proportionally and to use her mind to come up with solutions, is entirely teachable.

No Scaredy Cats – reducing anxiety and building resilience-thinking skills (2-12) helps the adults in a child’s life to build-up their skill base for helping children manage emerging anxiety, by providing day-to-day tips and strategies.

Click here. for upcoming family practitioner training courses in 2020 and for super early-bird prices, if you enrol before the end of the year.


Anderson, C., Cureton Turner, A., Heath, R.D., Payne, M. (2016). On the Meaning of Grit….and Hope…and Fate Control…and Alienation…and Locus of Control…and…Self-Efficacy…and…Effort..and…Optimism…and…

Lebowitz, E.R., Omer, H., Hermes, H. and Schahill, L. (2014) Parenting Training for Childhood Anxiety Disorder: The SPACE program. Cognitive and Behavioural Practice 21 (2014) P.456 – 469

Yeager, D.S., Walton, G.M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: They’re not magic. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 267-301.

For more information on No Scaredy Cats click here.

About the author

Michael Hawton is the founder of Parentshop, providing education and resources for parents and industry professionals working with children. He has authored two books on child behaviour management: Talk Less Listen More and Engaging Adolescents.


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