You can have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, and even a Plan E for your day, and still end up with a big, colossal “F.” You can try with all your might to make a great day, and still end up with a horrible one. Imagine, then, how much worse it must feel for those who just expect happiness to occur to them.
Kids want their happiness, and they want it now. Adults want their happiness, and they want it now. We all want our happiness sooner than later – and this is obviously not some sort of new development. In the last few decades, however, the speed at which we can retrieve information, receive packages in the mail, order and be served food, and view heartwarming puppy videos has skyrocketed.
Desire for instant gratification + high speed gratification = Happiness Expectation²
This equation is where our bigger problem begins. The faster rate at which people are receiving their wants is causing a greater expectation all around. What do I mean? The burning fire inside us to obtain happiness has always been aflame, but the addition and multiplication of technologies and philosophies that promote “get happy quick” stimuli to our world has added lighter fluid to our already strong flames of desire.
So, how do we go about helping kids (and each other) be okay with delayed gratification? Manage disappointment? Work through difficult days? Determine injustice? Certainly not by sticking them in front of screens, taking away their problems, and making excuses for them. How do we help them grow in our “have it your way, right away,” culture, especially since many of life’s struggles become magnified when adhering to this mantra?
We need to train our kids in the art of grit. Now, we could dissect all the descriptions of what “grit” means, as many educators, psychologists, and dictionarians have defined grit in a variety of ways. But I’m not going to…I’m going to join the club and come up with my own definition and acronym for you to suit the purposes of this post:
Grit is the determined behavior of overcoming adversity in order to complete a task or attain a goal.
Grow from Disappointment (lemonade can still be made from lemons)
Rise to the Occasion (harder tasks require increased effort)
Invest Time (Rome wasn’t built in a day, or in a two minute Youtube video)
Trust Yourself (confidence in yourself – and others – is required)
Perhaps one of the biggest struggles I’ve had as both a teacher and a parent is to cultivate in my students and kids sustained engagement. Over the years I’ve learned how to engage kids on a pretty consistent basis. Sparking curiosity, asking stimulating questions, creating interesting and relevant activities, donning odd clothing and instructing in a variety of accents are all successful ways to initiate engagement. However, developing sustained engagement in my students is a different story. The ability to have students engage in tasks successfully for prolonged amounts of time, especially challenging tasks, is hard.
There are two main reasons why this struggle is real, and really difficult:
- The environment students are growing up in (as mentioned above) doesn’t nurture sustained engagement.
- Students can’t be made to have sustained engagement – it is a decision they have to make, and commit to, on their own.
More and more of us are becoming little Veruca Salts, running around and demanding our golden tickets or Oompa-Loompas, or whatever thing or experience our hearts desire. “I want it now!” we are screaming, whether internally or verbally. And we are surrounded by companies, commercials, community members and politicians telling us we deserve what we want, and we deserve it now.
Unfortunately fighting for our rights and fighting for our wants has become a blurred and blended objective that has members of our society believing what they want is also what they deserve. So, when you ask a student raised in this type of entitled environment to engage in a prolonged and challenging task, that will not earn them anything but academic growth and the satisfaction of having successfully completed a task, students will more frequently balk at this request.
Plus, you can’t just tell a kid to be engaged, and maintain engagement. You can’t promise verbal accolades and expect it. You can’t promise awards or rewards and expect it. You can’t promise consequences and expect it. Sure, any one of these promises has the ability to result in a child deciding to try and try hard, for awhile anyway. But in the end, true, sustained engagement in a task for the sole purpose of learning and accomplishment needs to be initiated by intrinsic motivation for the engagement to be worthwhile – And for the sustained engagement to become a continued, lifelong practice.
Cultivating the importance of grit in the hearts and minds of children has always been difficult, but it has probably never been more difficult than it is today. How do we do it, then? We need to model it. We need to point out those people that model it. We need to applaud people that model it. We need to applaud our children when they model it. Our Veruca Salt mentality and culture is not going away, at least not any time soon, so it is our responsibility as parents and teachers to counteract ease and entitlement with grit and gratitude.
There’s nothing wrong to tell someone to have a great day. We just need to make sure we are helping children realize that to truly have great days requires effort, and on those challenging days, requires grit.