Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Gift of Grit Part 1

Grit is the Top Dog of all skills.  If your child has grit, they will pick up all other skills she needs on the way to a successful life.  As a parent and At Home Schooling academic coach, if you teach this, you win, and if you don't teach it, you lose.

Grit is roughly the ability to do hard work for extended periods of time in the face of setbacks and uncertainty.   Duckworth, who now owns this term thanks to her awesome research, calls is 'perseverance and passion for long-term goals'.  I don't agree with this yet.  I put a library hold on Duckworth's book to find out how older her children are because her wiki page doesn't say.  I can't imagine a 4 year old having long term goals.  Checking at ages 8 and 9, no long term goals.  One of my kids just made it to age 12 and I can see some preferences and budding interests but no long term goals.

I will flatly state that my 12 year old is the #2 person in the country ranked in terms of grit, except kids who read all the time.  Readers get their own ranking system.  The #1 person for grit is this girl from Russia in his class.  8 weeks ago we turned our attention to science for the first time in 6 years in preparation for 7th grade and eventually high school.  We were working 4 straight hours on Saturday and Sunday on the technical writing for labs when my son mentioned that the girl spends 15 hours every weekend working on labs and her lab write-ups are at least 30 pages long.  To which I flatly replied, "Are you allowed to choose lab group members?"

This is the difference between an experienced parent and an inexperienced parent.   What I really wanted to ask was "Does the middle school have dances yet?" but the subsequent eye rolling would have had a negative impact on our progress because you can't edit a lab when you're eyes are rolling into the back of your head.

Grit and learning skills are almost the same thing in my world because 41.6% of each 24 hour period is sleeping related, 43.9% is some type of implicit or explicit learning activity, and the balance is  eye rolling responses to my questions.

My secret formula for Grit is exactly the same as my secret formula for learning from age 3 until middle school.  I didn't realize that these were both the same until the weekend we spent 5 straight hours working on a math project one day and 4 straight hours working on a science lab the next, and in both cases, I was the one who asked that we stop.   I am going to explain how we got to this point. It's a logical progression, but somewhat unscientific because of external factors that I'll also include.

Step #1 - No Quitting
The frontal lobe is in charge of decision making, and this isn't fully developed before age 25. Even worse, since teenagers don't have a fully developed frontal lobe, they have to use the amygdala to make decisions, and the amygdala is in charge of emotions and responding to impulses.   Therefore, I told my child that they are not allowed to make decisions, except over a period of months, until age 25.  This takes quitting off the table.

Occasionally, I tell my son that his future self visited me last night and thanked me for making him finish whatever it was we were working on because it was very important to the success of Future Son.   Future Son also wanted to thank Present Son for saving his money instead of wasting it on Pokemon cards or a video game or whatever else he was considering because Future Son needed the money for something really important and awesome.  Future Son is also grateful for the hard work and music practice and other things that made Future Son so successful and got him a free trip to all of the Stanford football away games because he was in the band.  Future Son conveniently visits me as needed.

At some point in the future, the real Future Son will have to choose between one time intensive activity and another or a particular research specialty.  Both Stanford and the band may have to make room for something more suitable to his interests.   I'm just going to have to rely on his tiny amygdala.  Regardless of which decision is made, this is not quitting.

In the meantime, the drudgery of practicing the Trumpet is a pretty important external factor.   I could care less about music mastery, but mastering doing the same thing every day is really great.

The other external factor is the Scouts.  This was formerly known as Boy Scouts, but enough parents think like me that girls are starting to appear in meetings in some places, especially small towns. Some of the meetings can be quite boring.  I was a leader for 2 years, and it's much harder to put something together for the kids to do instead of something to listen to for an hour.   I have a response for this type of situation too.   "This needs fixing.  Why don't you fix it."

I'm disappointed to see kids drop out of band or scouting.   The typical reason is competing activities like theater or sports. Frankly, I think the parents blew it, especially in the case of sports.   I've solved this problem in the future interest of both Present Son and Future Son when he signed up for cross country. "Tell your coach that you'll miss practice or be really late on band day, but you'll make up by running double on days at home when there is no practice.  If you want me to talk to your coach for you I will, but I warn you that I'm going to wear all red and perform a song that I'm going sing instead of talk."  This will almost always guarantee the he takes responsibility, but he when he was 10, I added, "I will talk to the band director and if you miss any part of band, there will be heck to pay."

Step #2 - Don't Be A Hypocrite
Whatever you expect your child to do, because it's so important, why aren't you doing it?  These kids aren't dummies.   For example, you tell your child that practicing the piano or doing math or reading are important.  Watching screens is forbidden, and video games are the worst.

A parent tells their child to read or practice the instrument, and then sits there checking emails  or reading this blog. A child with an IQ above room temperature is going to know that the parent is lying and will determine that what's really important is getting an iPhone and texting.

Fortunately, little kids aren't geniuses either, yet, so this is an easy problem to solve.  Here's how I did it and how I'm still doing it.

First, I'm more than happy to practice the trumpet for as long as I can get away with it.  Totally interested, I'll ask how to play each note.  I proceed to stink so much that any time I try to pick it up to practice, which is as many times as necessary, the instrument is taken away in disgust.   At one point, I actually got pretty good at a 6 year old level on the piano before I was forbidden to play it.

I'm even worse in math.  How could a parent with so much math in graduate school who coaches children like Mace Windu coaches padawans be so dumb?  I can't even add in the presence of a 5 year old, let alone solve polynomials with a middle school child.  But I'm more than happy to jump into the ring at any time before being thrown out.

Next, I get really good books, really boring dry good books.  I'm currently reading a book about the Chippewa Indians. I think it will take me about 11 months to finish this book.  There are 8 pages on how they make dry cherry cakes and why these were important to trade among the tribes, but my kids just tuned me out when I hit the word "cakes". Problem solved.  Reading is important, but even more important is my kids not having to be bored by me sharing what I'm reading.  Having the book on the table is enough.

Any time they stop by to see what I'm up to with the iPad, they'll see a boring paper from a professor of a university on the topic of African American parenting.  I'm preparing for the Chicago Project.   It should come as no surprise to my readers that I rank the academic field of all things African American in the same tier as Cognitive Psychology. I'll talk about that later. All my kids see is more boring boringness. Problem solved.  I've got an even better solution for the computer issue, but it also is going to save you a lot of money, so I'll cover it separately in a few weeks.

#Step 3 - The Secret Formula
This article is long enough, so I'm saving this for Part 2.  Step 1 and Step 2 are just the prerequisites.

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