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Overdoing Grit?

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

Early last summer, my mother-in-law, who watches the kids two days a week, took Patrick, the 3-year-old, to a reading at our local library. While there, Pack (that's what we call him) did something to earn her praise.

Admittedly, that's not hard. She is a grandmother. Nevertheless, she was impressed and showed it by saying, "Good job!"

That simple, seemingly innocuous phrase earned the instructor's condemnation. The woman swooped in, her finger wagging.

"You shouldn't tell a child 'good job,'" she chastised. "It sets them up for a lifetime of seeking affirmation and praise."

"Well, then what am I supposed to say?" asked my incredulous mother-in-law.

"You should say, 'You worked hard, and you did it,'" the woman answered.

We all had a good laugh later that day when my mother-in-law recounted the story.

A funny thing happened when I started praising Patrick for hard work.

A few days later, I found myself at the playground with Pack. He performed some feat and looked to me for approval. I started to tell him 'good job' but caught myself and instead said, "Hey, you worked hard, and you did it!"

It felt funny to say, but a funnier thing happened. Patrick took an even bolder risk. When he successfully completed that, I again said, "You worked hard, and you did it," which prompted another, even bolder attempt. These weren't the kinds of risks that cause parents to hold their breath, but he definitely was challenging himself on the playground.

The loony instructor at the local library appeared to be on to something.

Today, I'm much more familiar with the grit movement -- her advice was an extension of it -- and if you've been paying attention to this space, you know I've become something of a champion for it. Developing gritty kids is important for their future success.

But so is balance.

We still tell Patrick 'Good job,' because, well, because we're not out of our minds. But when he accomplishes something we've encouraged him to figure out for himself, we're just as quick to say, "You worked hard, and you did it!"

Striking the right balance isn't always easy for parents, though. The other day, Meghan was driving the kids somewhere, and Patrick said from the backseat, "Mommy, I worked hard, and I did it!"

"What did you do, Honey?" she asked.

Patrick held up his water bottle. "I took a drink of water."

Oh well, at least she didn't praise him for that.

To check out my series on grit, click on the label #TrueGritTuesdays in the green box below.

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