Show 'em what you're made of

August 25th, 2017

My sixth grader went out for the school football team. He was excited; I was proud. But he didn’t make it. My heart ached for my boy who encountered his first public disappointment. I hugged him and said, “I’m proud of you for trying. That took a lot of Courage.”

I immediately began investigating other options. Was there a community league he could join at this point in the season? Despite my efforts to console him with opportunities to play the sport he loved, he was insistent, “I’m done with that sport. I don’t want to play anymore.”

On the way to the first practice, he asked angrily, “Why are you making me do this?”

“Because I love you,” I replied calmly yet with a pang in my heart. The tone of his voice betrayed his vulnerability.

“But why, Mama?”, he pleaded.

“Because you are not a quitter,” I said with tough love.

“Do you have a growth mindset?”, he asked.

His sixth grade English teacher has been talking to her new students about the importance of being open to learn and grow. Although the two of them have had a rough start to the year, I like her passion and spunk. She has committed her life to teaching because she believes she can change the world. The fact that my 11 year-old is asking me about Dr. Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset is evidence that she is making a difference.

“Yes, I have a growth mindset. I don’t give up, even though I’ve wanted to at times,” I confessed as he nodded thoughtfully.

When we arrived at the field, he protested more vehemently, even offering to give me all of his Legos if I would not make him go to practice with this new team. “Just go this one time and see if you like it. If you don’t, you don’t have to play football ever again,” I promised.

As a parent, this felt like a critical juncture for my son. I was not willing to let him toss away his dreams of playing ball after one rejection. Michael Jordan didn’t make his school basketball team, but look at him now. This is a life lesson about perseverance…grit, as Angela Duckworth calls it.

We parents and educators want our kids to succeed. But sometimes the greatest success comes after failing. I know that has been the story of my own life. Failure is an opportunity to dig deep and show what we’re made of. Consider Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Kids and adults alike must keep reaching…keep striving…keep growing…even through the pain of disappointment.

In light of all that is happening in our nation, I can’t help but think of how grit applies. Let us not become complacent or weary in our stand for social justice. May we grow stronger and wiser each day.

Tips for Persevering:

  1. Reassure the discouraged one that he or she is seen, known and loved. Give big hugs.
  2. Offer him or her space to voice fears and frustrations. Listen, don’t try to fix.
  3. Explore new opportunities to try and try and try again without blaming or shaming.
  4. Celebrate the wins…big and small. Encouraging words, special treats, silly songs or fun toys bring smiles and laughter.
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