8 Tips to Grow Your Grit

What's more important for success than talent, social skills, motivation, IQ, or practice? It's a scrappy little quality called "grit." This week, the Savvy Psychologist offers 8 tips to cultivate grit in kids--or yourself!

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #33

Tip #4: Teach Courage

Courage is closely aligned with grit. Courage isn’t merely doing challenging things--it’s being afraid, and then digging in your heels and trying anyway. In other words, fear is a prerequisite to courage. 

To apply this, when your little ones say they’re scared, tell them, “You can do scary things.” Then, the next time you need to submit that manuscript or get that mammogram, tell yourself the same.

Tip #5: Encourage Long-Term Commitment

The specific activity—piano, gymnastics, chess—doesn’t matter as much as the effort. Let kids try out different activities until they find one they love and want to stick with. And by ‘try out,’ I don’t mean one lesson: ask them to hang in there for the season or the semester. If, after that, the activity really isn’t a match for them, don’t re-register--but do ask them to try something else.

Tip #6: The Growth Mindset

This concept has been all over popular psychological science recently, but it bears repeating.

In short, in a fixed mindset, kids believe that their intelligence or abilities are set traits that render them successes or failures, regardless of effort. However, in a growth mindset, kids learn that their intelligence or abilities can be developed through—you guessed it—gritty hard work and perseverance.

So, teach kids that the brain is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Initial failures and struggles are just the brain pumping iron on the way to success.

Tip #7: Use Visual Reminders to Encourage Perseverance and Delayed Gratification

For example, for little kids saving for a big purchase, ditch the piggy bank and save coins in a clear jar, so they can see their progress. For kids trying to change a habit, or to encourage practice, use a visual token system—for instance, they get a marble in a jar every time they practice piano, or for every day they don’t bite their nails. When the jar is full, they get a previously agreed-upon reward (and, of course, the satisfaction of a job well done.)

Tip #8: Grit Won’t Apply to Every Situation

Kids won’t be particularly gritty at something they hate. So don’t overstate grit as the cure for hating algrebra or hating sports—grit is about hanging in there for the passion, not about, “you’re going to do it no matter what, and you’re going to like it.” Passion increases grit, but grit allows kids to pursue their passion..


Burkhart, R.A., Tholey, R.M., Guinto, D., Yeo, C.J., & Chojnacki, K.A.  (2014).  Grit: A marker of residents at risk for attrition?  Surgery, 155, 1014-22.

Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R.  (2007).  Grit: Perseverence and passion for long-term goals.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 1087-1101.


Photos of Perseverence, toddler on steps, and Keep Going sign courtesy of Shutterstock.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.