Many parents today want to raise exceptional children. They are hoping their kids will become “stars” in academics, sports, or the arts.

And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting the best for our kids, some educators are noticing a disturbing trend amongst parents who push their kids to win.

These parents aren’t allowing their kids to make mistakes and learn from them. Which is ultimately how children succeed.

The term “helicopter parenting” has been used to describe this style of overprotectiveness. Parents swoop in to fix things rather than letting their child fail or suffer disappointment.

Helicopter parents end up helping too much with homework, coaching from the sidelines, etc.. Trouble is, this type of behavior can teach a child to feel helpless.

It doesn’t encourage the development of two key traits important to how children succeed; resilience and grit.

What Is Grit?

Grit has become the new buzz word in education circles. People who study this field define grit as persistence, determination, and resilience.

It’s that extra something that keeps one child pushing to learn french, or the piano, by practicing for hours and continuing even when things get tough.

“This quality of being able to sustain your passions, and also work really hard at them, over really disappointingly long periods of time, that’s grit,” says Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Duckworth coined the term “grit” and was awarded a MacArthur genius grant. Her research shows that grit is actually a better predictor of how children succeed than IQ or other measures when it comes to achievements as varied as graduating from West Point or winning the National Spelling Bee.

Resist The Urge To Help

How do you get off the over-parenting bus and resist the urge to step in and “help” all the time?

It starts with both parents and kids buying into the idea that struggle is okay, and that hard work is going to pay off in the end.

Stanford University professor Carol Dweck says, it’s important for everyone to have a “growth mindset”, a belief that success comes from effort.

Related: Growth Mindset Parenting: Raising Kids Who Won’t Quit

It’s the opposite of a “fixed mindset” which is the idea that people are successful because they are born with certain “gifts” such as intelligence or talent.

It’s difficult to be resilient if you buy into the belief that how smart or talented you are is a fixed thing. You start thinking things like, ‘well I’m just not one of the smart kids, so trying harder won’t help’.

Kids who feel this way might give up, or never apply themselves in the first place.

Some schools have taken notice of the importance of grit and are trying to find ways to focus more on the effort put into solving a problem, rather than on just getting the right answer.

This adjustment isn’t always easy. Particularly for teachers that have been trained to focus on standardized test scores.

Becoming comfortable with the idea that mistakes and failures are an important part of how children succeed (and not a reason to quit) can be a big change for educators and students alike.

Portrait of teenage girl reading book with her classmate at background
Getty Images

 

Books On Resilience

Two books out now, How To Raise an Adult by Juliet Lythcott-Haims and The Gift Of Failure by Jessica Lahey, both expand upon this topic. These books make very similar claims that many parents are too anxious about their children’s achievements to allow them to work through obstacles or learn from mistakes.

In an interview with NPR, Jessica Lahey says:

kids are anxious, afraid and risk-averse because parents are more focused on keeping their children safe, content and happy in the moment than on parenting for competence. Furthermore, we as a society are so obsessed with learning as a product; grades, scores, etc…that we have sacrificed real learning.”

Advice For Overprotective Parents

Lythcott-Haims offers some advice for parents that want to step back from being overprotective or over-involved in their kids’ lives in order to encourage grit;

  • Stop saying “we” when you are talking about your kid. “We” are not trying out for the basketball team, and “we” are not applying to college. Your kid is, so make this line clear.
  • Stop arguing with the grown-ups in your kid’s life; their teachers, coaches, referees, etc., and let your child address issues themselves and work to overcome them.
  • Stop doing your child’s homework, projects, applications, resumes, etc. Let them do it themselves, and learn from any mistakes they make.

The central theme of both books is that failure helps children learn about themselves. Kids can and will recover from their mistakes. It’s up to parents to be patient and trust in their kids.

Mistakes Are How Children Succeed

Keep in mind that whenever we tell our kids “let me do that for you”, we are really saying “I don’t think you’re capable of doing that yourself”. Be sure this is really true before stepping in. Mistakes are part of how children succeed.

It might be hard to watch your child struggle. It can feel uncomfortable at first. Know this going in and be prepared for some nail-biting moments.

Also, let your child know that if they get into any real trouble, they can always come back to you for assistance or direction.

This will help your kids feel confident enough take risks and try new solutions. They know you’re still there if really needed.

Resilience and grit are like a muscle. The more your kids use them, the stronger they will become.

What do you think about the role of grit and resilience in how children succeed? Share your thoughts and comments in our Education Community.