The Cycle | September 24, 2012
>>> i am in the middle of a parenting crisis. i'd always thought afs good mom making decent decisions for my 4-year-old, but now i stare down the new york city kindergarten process and i feel utterly unprepared and entirely lost in the whole process. i'm decoding educational buzzwords and reading articles about tiger bombs and enumerating how i failed my child. now my next guest says what i need to worry about is my daughter has enough grit. how do you foster grit in a 4-year-old? what does that mean? in the guest spot today is contributing writer of the new york magazine is paul tuft, he's author of how children succeed. he said character traits and not iq determine success in life. hopefully he'll reassure me i'm somewhat of a good mom. talk about grit. what is it and how do we foster it in our kids?
>> grit is this idea that a psychologist at the university of pennsylvania named angela duckworth invented as a psychological trait . she defines it as passion, perseverance and the pursuit of a passion. it's about having self-discipline but having a real goal and not letting any obstacles stand in the way. that's a challenge for a lot of kids.
>> how do we get our kids to have grit?
>> there's a few different ways to do it. partly you start with a young child. it seems like one of the ways to help our kids develop the kind of character strengths that make a difference for them is in the first few years of life to just be close, nurturing, attached, loving, all of those that come natural to most parents. actually, that gives kids the best start they can possibly have in terms of developing these character strengths. the reason parenting is so complicated is later in childhood when kids get to be five and 10 and 15, we need to pull back a little bit. being too connected to overly protective of kids denies them the opportunities to develop their own grit.
>> so in addition to parenting toward grit and character development and all of these things, how would you recommend we teach teachers to teach to grit and character and all of these seemingly nebulous kinds of ideas?
>> well, i think it's about a bigger culture change in our education system . right now we're very focused on test scores , and i think the reason for that is that we think that the one quality that matters for kids' success is iq. the scientists and educators are arguing for a very different set of skills. they talk about grit and they're talking about perseverance, optimism and curiosity. they're better predictors of long-term success. part of what has to happen is to give teachers more incentives to concentrate on these other strengths. in fact, lots of teachers knows how to do it but are inclined to do because they're focused on short- term test scores.
>> you talk about stresses in the life of poor kids holds them back. what can be done about that?
>> part of the book is about neuroscience, and particularly the development of our stress response system. there's really clear evidence now that when kids deal with too much intense and chronic stress in the first few years of life, what some scientists call toxic stress, it has a detrimental effect on the way their stress system develops over their lives. that has an effect on long-term health but on mental health and on their executive functions . these cognitive skills at that let them do well on the first day of school. really, what kids need is two things. one is protection from that kind of adversity. they need a better environment to grow up in. the other is close relationships with a parent or other care giver. there are interventions to work with parents to help them develop relationships.
>> you're talking about failure for children to understand what failure is to develop grit. i'm thig nking of a lot of parents who are psychotic when it comes to their kids and they're obsessed with giving they are kid every conceivable advantage, being the best in every test, best in every class, get in all the different admissions tests, whether it's elementary school or middle school and all this stuff. does the psychology of today's parents allow for allowing their kid to fail at any point?
>> i think for lots of parents it doesn't. that's a challenging thing. i certainly feel it as a parent. it's deep in our dna to want to protect kids from adversity the at every turn. a lot of the educators say that skills like grit and self-control are built through fail failure. it's the experience of failing, trying again and succeeding where these character strengths are built. in so many academic environments, no one really fails anything. we don't give kids a chance to prove themselves that wait.
>> paul, it's a great book. i'm reading it with my husband. thanks for the insight and for joining us.
>> straight ahead, how far is too far to keep us safe. we'll investigate the crime fighting techniques that they call