How do we grow gritty children, how do we turn them into people who can withstand pain and disappointment and failure? How do we develop in them character and set them up with lives of unshakable hope?
Grit. The rough side of the sandpaper. Beach feet in flip flops. A valuable characteristic in children. Apparently grit is a buzzword in schools these days, and it is being cultivated in children to ready them “for a 21st century world of work and personal success.” “Grit” refers to characteristics like resilience, adaptability, tenacity. It is a stubborn irritant that slowly works away at something and won’t be easily shaken. It is a small thing that is capable of forcing big change over time. And in the midst of this rapidly changing, technology-obsessed, capitalistic culture, grit seems to be a trait Canadian governments deem important in our next generation.
My daughter, at the ripe old age of five, is embroiled in a social conflict at school. Recently she wasn’t invited to a playdate with a few of her friends; her little group is trying to figure out their relationships and, right or wrong, some parents intervene. My girl seems to be handling it quite well, but the pain is ricocheting madly through my heart. High school wasn’t a good time for me, and suddenly I am 14 again and standing alone in the lunch room. I would do anything to protect her from this. I want to pull her out of school and homeschool her until she is 30. Well 18, anyway. I am angry and sad and conflicted. I want so badly for her to have one friend, one kindred spirit, who can hold her up until she finds more of her people. But she is stuck in a class of about 23 kids, a cohort that will more-or-less stay the same until Grade 8, and things are not easy.
No easier way
For me, as for many parents, this is an uncomfortable place to be. Every part of me wants to react, to fix things, to do something. But my adult self – which does, thankfully, pipe up from time to time – is trying to remind me that people do not grow without irritants; we do not change what we can tolerate. It is possible that the best thing I can do for my daughter in this situation is allow her to be hurt. By stepping back and letting her work through it, I am giving her space to develop coping strategies, compassion and independence. As she navigates the murky waters of relationship, I hope she will learn how to be a friend and where to turn for support when she needs it. It’s risky business, this letting go, but I want the reward; I want her to be a veritable beach of grittiness. Because, as it turns out, grit is a sought-after characteristic in Christ-followers as well as school kids.
The biblical term for grit is perseverance. Romans tells us that perseverance is produced by suffering, and it produces character (5:4). Although character seems like an end in itself, it is actually described as a gateway to hope. Our instinct may be to rescue our children from suffering, but there are times when the seemingly hopeless situation actually contains the seeds of real and lasting hope.
So how do we grow gritty children, how do we turn them into people who can withstand pain and disappointment and failure? How do we develop in them character and set them up with lives of unshakable hope? We already know in our guts that the answer is not easy, just as Rome was not built in a day, and anything worth having is worth waiting for. We know that the answer is found on the narrow road that nobody wants to take, that they must suffer their way to it. But when we look up from our lives of imagined control and helicopter parenting and self-help strategies and realize there is no easier way, then we can also begin to live the truth that it is possible to rejoice in these sufferings because we know what is possible through them.