How Children Succeed: IQ vs Grit

tim chan —  May 23, 2013 — 4 Comments

How do children succeed in life? After I became a parent, I started to ask myself this question. What can my wife and I do to help my daughter succeed in life? What is “success” and what does it look like? As I’ve started reading about this subject, I’ve come across a few insights that I will share with you today.

How Children Succeed: IQ vs GritIn Paul Tough’s recent book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character [affiliate link], he challenges our culture’s assumptions that success is a result of intelligence. You see the results of this everywhere: parents sending their children to Kumon at early ages to learn math, the huge demand for Baby Einstein videos, eager parents registering their children for bilingual schools or French Immersion programs, etc. Parents of high school students register them for SATs, IB classes, AP classes, and special summer school programs, all in the hopes of preparing their children for success in the future. These parents believe that the development of cognitive skills, which can be measured by test scores, IQ, and GPA, is the best thing they can do for their children.

But what if those beliefs were wrong?

Paul Tough writes that in the past decade, the latest research from economists, educators, psychologists, and neuroscientists have pointed to a different conclusion: “What matters most in a child’s development is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiousity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.

Angela Lee Duckworth in her recent TED talk “The key to success? Grit,” says something similar. She worked as a math teacher for 7th graders in the inner city for many years and noticed that her most intelligent students were not necessarily the ones that succeed. So she quit teaching and became a psychologist. She and her team studied people across many sectors to try to predict who would succeed. They looked at new teachers in inner city schools and tried to predict who would make it through their first year. They studied salespeople and tried to predict who would make the most money. They watched West Point Cadets and finalists at National Spelling Bees. And what they discovered was that the greatest predictor and indicator of success was GRIT.

According to Angela Lee Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” (To see how much grit you have, take Angela Duckworth’s GRIT Test.)

Both reading Paul Tough’s book and listening to Angela Lee Duckworth has made me think more deeply about what Olive and I can do for our daughter Allie, to help her succeed in life. We want to be the best parents that we can, and part of that is learning from what others have to say about parenting. Our deepest desire as parents is making sure that our daughter knows that she is loved and worthy of love. But beyond that, we want to help her develop the necessary skills and character to succeed in life.

How do you think children succeed?

photo credit: Vince Alongi

  • I totally believe this. It also brings up a great opportunity for me to ask you a question I’ve been meaning to ask: I’d love to hear your perspective on the whole Tiger Mom parenting thing. I read Amy Chua’s book awhile ago and found it fascinating, but curious to know what it might look like (if it can) in the context of a faith/gospel based parenting situation. That’d be a great blog post!

    • olivechan

      That’s a great question, Jess! I haven’t read Tiger Mom but it’s on my to-read list. We read Grace Based Parenting when I was pregnant with Allie and really enjoyed his perspective on what gospel centered parenting looks like.

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  • Amanda

    I just finished reading “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olsen. To have the “slight edge” is to do a small thing, everyday, consistently, with a burning passion, knowing the price you have to pay to keep the consistency going, and continue with small habits until you reach your goal. It teaches that 80% of results are often seen in the last 20% of effort put in; so the first 80% of the time spent doing a new habit will hold minimal results. I have recently put this to the test in the area of exercise. In September I started jogging half an hour once a week. The first month I say no results, the second month I pulled my hip flexers and had to modify my exercise until I was stronger. The third month I felt stronger, and had more energy, and genuinely looked forward to going outside for a jog, but still no results in how my clothes fit. By December, my pants were quite larger, and my thighs looked smaller in the mirror. I stepped on the scale and I have lost 15 lbs! My goal was not to loose weight – my goal was to build up my stamina to run a half marathon in August. I was satisfied at my previous weight, but to me, this shows me the power of the slight edge. Knowing how to make the slight edge work “for” me and not “against” me makes me feel pretty damn successful :)