Why your child's grit could be more important than their IQ

Why grit sets children apart.
Why grit sets children apart. Photo: Getty

Does your child have grit? If you have never heard of the term, you may even be wondering, what is “grit”?

The theory of grit has been studied by Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania who explained her findings in a recent online TED talk. Duckworth describes grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals” and explains that success often doesn't rely solely on IQ. 

Duckworth became interested as a teacher in the correlation between IQ and success. She found that some of her smartest kids were not doing well at school and some of her best students did not have extraordinary IQ scores.

Following her time as a teacher, she began studying psychology. Duckworth and her team studied cadets in military training, children in the National Spelling Bee and rookie teachers working in tough neighbourhoods to identify who would be most successful. The single most significant predictor for success that they discovered was not social intelligence, physical health, attractiveness or IQ. What was it? Grit.

The findings of Duckworth's studies have been echoed in Paul Tough's book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character which acknowledges that grit and character are more likely to decide success than the IQ children are born with.

So in what ways is your child’s grit more important than IQ?

One of Duckworth’s role models is Carol Dweck from Stanford University who has developed an idea called growth mindset. This is the idea that IQ and talent are just a starting point and that most basic skills can be developed through dedication and hard work. Studies have shown that grittier kids have a growth mindset.

Natasha, mum to 12-year-old Tiana, has found over the years that a growth mindset has assisted her daughter to develop and become proficient at maths. Following a parent-teacher interview, Natasha advised Tiana that the teacher mentioned she could improve in maths. Tiana had convinced herself that it was just too hard and she could never do well at it.

“This simple comment meant that Tiana didn’t just become a clever person. She chose to make an effort and came to the realisation that she wanted to do well at maths,” Natasha said. “The change in her was amazing. The repetition of her hard work and the timing of the comment meant that she is being rewarded with good marks in maths now as she is about to enter high school.” 

From developing a growth mindset to perseverance, Tough has found that this is an indicator for strong development and therefore, success. Parent educator/family counsellor Martine Oglethorpe identifies that developing perseverance in children is particularly important in a world which is now largely lived online. “These skills don’t come from intelligence but rather an understanding developed from trial and error, exposure and experience,” she says.

Oglethorpe also identifies that skills in critical thinking and resilience are vital in decision making about online behaviours and interactions. Over the past few years, resilience has become a common term, particularly in the context of bullying. Developing these skills are more important than IQ as Oglethorpe notes, "When kids are given the chance to make mistakes, to look for alternatives, to try again, they open themselves up to a world of opportunity."

While resilience may take a child so far, success also relies on the child having a deep commitment to their goals. In an interview with Deborah Perkins-Gough for Resilience and Learning, Duckworth acknowledges that there are kids who are not satisifed to achieve an A grade; they do not have a limit on what they want to achieve. She says, "those are the people who are both talented and gritty."

Oglethorpe also acknowledges that when children have set goals and forward thinking, they are able to identify opportunities as they arise. "Having a greater goal in mind relies far more on motivation than intelligence and aids this quest for achievement."

And what are the best ways to encourage grit in our kids? Here are the top five:

  • Educate your child on growth mindset: Help them understand that IQ and talent are just a starting point and that with dedication and hard work they can achieve great results.
  • Provide your child with opportunities to learn and explore: Oglethorpe explains the importance of these opportunities without constantly being the safety net for your children.
  • Encourage pursuits your kids enjoy: “This helps keep the motivation high and the desire to succeed at the forefront,” Oglethorpe says.
  • Help your children recognise rewards and achievements: Oglethorpe notes that helping your children recognise these benefits when they continue to practice is important.
  • Encourage your kids to take on challenges: When children are faced with a challenge, they are given the chance to make a mistake and seek alternatives. Overcoming difficulty and persevering is key to developing grit.

You may already know your IQ score but if you’re wanting to see how gritty you are, take Duckworth’s grit test with Pennsylvania University.

Follow Kym Campradt on Twitter @KymCampradt