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How to help your child do hard things

For children, trying new things can be hard. Whether it's acquiring a new skill, making new friends, dealing with a new environment, or taking direction from a new coach - it's hard to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

This ability to push through discomfort at a young age is an early and accurate signal of how well children will do in high school, college, and life. Children with this type of "grit" fare better than those without.

Angela Duckworth, an expert on this topic, defines grit as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals".  Duckworth found that students who made a regular practice of doing "hard things" during their childhood, were better prepared to deal with the challenges and obstacles of adulthood.

How do we, as parents, manage the balance between supporting our children to push through hard things and forcing them to do so?

Below is one method, based on Duckworth's extensive work, that can be adopted by any family.

The Hard Thing Rule

Rule #1
Each member of the family must, at all times, be engaged in a "Hard Thing" (a hard thing is any activity that requires daily deliberate practice)

  • Dad: "Building a new entrepreneurial venture"
  • Mom: "Running the school PTSA"
  • Son #1: Piano lessons
  • Daughter #1: Ballet lessons
  • Son #2: Water polo team

Rule #2
Family members are not allowed to quit the activity until it comes to a natural stopping point (e.g. end of season, tuition due, after a new PTSA president is elected, etc.) Bottom Line: "No quitting on a bad day."

Rule #3
Everybody picks their own "hard thing". There's no reason to force a child into a hard thing that they have no interest in. Let it be their choice. Over time, children will get accustomed to doing a "hard thing" every day. It will become a habit. This is where the magic happens. If (or when) they eventually give up on their hard thing (e.g. piano lessons) they simply pick another one and start over. No harm - no foul.

Teaching our children the importance of sticking with an activity is critical. Oftentimes, the rewards don't show up until later. Unfortunately, too many children "quit" before the payoff.

I hope the "Hard Thing Rule" offers you a framework that helps address this issue head-on.

I'd love to hear how you strive to develop "grit" in your children.

Prep On,

Author: PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank, etc.

Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

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