A Case Study: Building Grit Through Routines

Building Grit Through RoutinesDo you love CASE STUDIES as much as I do? I find they help to show examples of traits that we want to build in our children (Building Grit), but sometimes have difficulty doing.  The habit of building grit is one that many parents I’ve talked to struggle with.  Here’s a truncated version of one of my favorite case studies from The Learning Habit about building grit through routines.  It shows how the simple act of preparing dinner can be used as a tool to build character grit in a child.

CASE STUDY: Building Grit Through Routines

In Jenna’s house, you’ll notice that her children all have a lot of responsibility. With six children crammed into a small house, you trip if someone leaves their stuff out. “Stuff” equals sports equipment. The family is not poor, but they are not wealthy, either.

They chose to live in a smaller house with fewer “things” because it was in a better school district. There is a rotating schedule detailing which child makes dinner, cleans, and so on. By the age of four—yes, four—her children were expected to make dinner for the family.

Many parents can’t imagine letting a four-year-old near the stove. Jenna’s children were capable of preparing simple meals; they could read and understand measurements by the age of four.

“People are horrified by that story, like it was child abuse or something. I just shake my head. Please. You want your children to be more independent and less whiney, have more children!” Jenna laughs.*

Reprinted from The Learning Habit by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, Rebecca Jackson, and Dr. Robert Pressman by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, Copyright © 2014 by Good Parent, Inc.


Jenna’s story does give us pause.  It seems almost counter-intuitive, but she has done a terrific job building grit in her children.  The “oven” scenario might not be for everyone, but by the age of 5 most children could make a sandwich.  How often do we actually require them to do this, to prepare dinner to feed the family?  Resource constraint can provide powerful motivation to build grit.  After interviewing hundreds of parents, children and educators, I’ve discovered that gritty kids have a lot more in common.

The Grit List

  1. Clear sense of who they are as people
  2. Clear priorities
  3. Strong sense of work ethic
  4. Prioritize personal goals
  5. Not swayed by peer pressure
  6. They trust themselves

I write much more about building grit in The Learning Habit, coming September 2, 2014 about educational and parenting approaches that help children succeed. With two children of my own, I have to admit I find this one of the most interesting subjects of all time. My favorite chapter in the book which deals with grit is Fun Family Challenges. Click below to try one!

Fun Family Challenges
I enjoy reading books that encourage us to change our habits. However, I often struggle when it comes to implementing small, incremental changes into the fabric of my life. What I like about Fun Family Challenges is that they are in the form of a game. Children learn through play. All the challenges were designed for readers like me who are motivated to change, but don’t really know where to start.
Don’t wait until the last minute, preorder your copy.
Do you have anything you’d like to add to “The Grit List”? Please add it in the comments below.

If You Have Time…
I highly recommend taking a virtual tour of the Duckworth Lab. Dr. Angela Duckworth is a pioneer in the field of psychology and provides valuable research on the topic of Grit.
TAKE her 12-item Grit Test and learn if you’ve got this valuable charter trait.
READ this Boston Globe article on The Learning Habit Study with Dr. Robert M. Pressman which discusses the negative correlation between the amount of screen time and grades.
SIGN UP for the Good Parent, Inc. Newsletter.

Posted in Case Study, Education, Fun Family Challenges, Grit, Habits | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GRIT: One of Eight Essential Skill Sets Kids Need To Succeed in School and Life

Got Grit

In speaking with educators and other parents about grit, I find that most people know very little about what it actually looks like.  I have a passion for collecting stories about children who use grit in everyday life.  What I find fascinating about grit is that it is the only skill set that speaks to a child’s character.

Grit has nothing to do with scoring well on the PARCC assessment, sinking a basket from midcourt, or memorizing a times table.  Yet it is an incredibly accurate predictor of future success.

The character trait of grit is so important to predicting a child’s future success that it is included as one of the eight essential skill sets necessary to succeed in school and life.  That’s huge, because grit can be developed and learned.

Here is what we DO know about Grit.

Children who have developed grit have a number of common characteristics including curiosity, optimism, psychological resourcefulness, and resilience.  They are given autonomy and responsibility at a young age.


Have you found ways to build Grit in your home? Have you ever been inspired to tackle a big family challenge using small, incremental changes? Please share your story and tips here so we can all learn from each other. If you would like to learn more about building this character trait, along with other essential skill sets, click here to preorder The Learning Habit.

Posted in Education, Grit, The Learning Habit Study | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Swap Out Method Really Works To Change Media Habits

The Swap Out MethodMy next book, The Learning Habit, is about the skills and habits that help children succeed in school and life.

Each week, I’ll post a story from the hundreds of interviews I conducted for The Learning Habit.  Although the book is based on research and studies, many parents learn anecdotally.

As a parent, do you find yourself paying attention to hard science or learning through other moms and dads?  I need both.  As a lover of statistics, I like to know “why” and “how” things workI use stories to take actionable steps which lead to real change and lasting habits.

The following story is from a case study included in The Learning Habit.

McKenzie seemed chronically unhappy. She was always begging me for toys she’d seen on a TV commercial. The more I gave in to McKenzie’s demands, the unhappier she seemed.  I decided to cut down on her media use – game apps and television were the worst offenders.  The positive changes in McKenzie’s behavior were almost immediate.

Andrea used a strategy called “The Swap Out Method” to reduce screen time and media use.  The Swap Out Method involves small, incremental changes which lead to lifelong habits.  She began by swapping out one media consumption activity a week with a non-media activity.


Andrea’s Tip: Permit media in the car only for longs trips (longer than one hour of uninterrupted driving). “This immediately cut out at least a fifth of my child’s media consumption,” Andrea said.

Have you found ways to cut down on media consumption in your home? Have you ever been inspired to tackle a big family challenge using small, incremental changes?  Please share your story and tips here so we can all learn from each other.


I’ve heard that many parents are concerned about the upcoming school year with academic changes such as the Common Core Curriculum.  During these transitions, things can feel out of control for parents, students, and teachers.  The best way we can stop the pendulum from swinging is to focus on building long-term learning habits.  These habits are built at home, and are all within our area of control. Click here to preorder The Learning Habit.

Posted in Education, Habits, Media Addiction | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Cell Phone Use Is Destroying Your Kids’ Short-Term Memory

Originally printed in The Huffington Post.n-TEEN-BOY-TEXTING-large570

I’m mid-conversation with my 15-year-old, and he’s filling me in on the happenings of his day. They chose pseudonyms in French class. His “French” name? Bruno. I remind him that Bruno is Italian, not French, but he could care less. “It’s hilarious,” he assures me.

Then, I hear it; the faint but ubiquitous ding of an iPhone coming from his pocket, and he’s transported someplace else. As we continue our chat, there is visible tension in his jawline and his stare is more vacant. He’s suppressing the urge to glance at his phone, but he can’t stop himself from thinking about it. He’s looking at me, he’s responding to what I’m saying, but it’s not him. I’ve already lost him.

I tell him that I’ll be picking him up from swim practice tonight, I tell him about his cousin’s birthday party next weekend. He walks away and makes it about five paces before he pulls the phone out of his pocket.

I find out later that he has no memory of my telling him either of these things.

Concern about kids’ use of technology is nothing new; concern over my own child’s use of technology is.

As a parenting expert and author, I’m fortunate enough to work with some of the premiere universities and hospitals currently conducting research on this very subject. So shouldn’t I be inoculated against this type of unwelcome infiltration in my own home? Um, hell no. No parent is.

So, what actually happened to my child’s memory during the last two minutes of our conversation — the part after the “ding” when I told him about a birthday party and confirmed his pickup at practice?

In an article published this week in Wellness, Erik Fransén, a researcher out of Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, explains that the problem with technology use has to do with our working memory, or what we often refer to as our “short-term” memory: “Working memory enables us to filter out information and find what we need in the communication… it’s also a limited resource.”

According to Fransen’s research, working memory can only carry up to three or four items. When we add a new message to that (DING, check your cell phone! DING, Check your cell phone!) we lose our ability to process information.

Parenting a Generation M2 child means that our kids’ brains have carte blanche to forget anything we say after hearing the DING.

“The effect of media multitasking on memory is still relatively unknown. Many parents think it’s simply use of more than one media device at a time; like watching The Voice while texting. It’s not that simple,” explains Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, Clinical Director for the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

Donaldson-Pressman, along with a research team out of Brown University School of Medicine and Children’s National Medical Center, are currently conducting one of the most comprehensive research projects ever to examine the complex influences and behaviors which affect Generation M2.

It’s called “The Learning Habit study,” and the 7-minute online survey gives parents instant feedback on key habits and routines. (Click here to participate.)
Research on this subject is something parents are now demanding.

Donaldson-Pressman and her colleagues are already outlining precautions for parents to take which include:

1. Have a cell phone “spot” in your home: place cell phones there upon entering your house. It will become a habit, just like hanging up your keys.

2. Whenever possible, power-down before conversations

3. Stop the conversation. If you find yourself in a conversation with your child and hear their phone ding or vibrate, stop the conversation. Let them know you want them to take a moment and power-down; they can turn their cell phones back on when you are finished.

“When you ask a child to power-down, it gives them permission to let go of whatever and whoever is virtually intruding on your conversation. It’s a clear sign that you are both fully present for the conversation,” explains Donaldson-Pressman, best-selling author of The Narcissistic Family.

My son’s response to something that seemed like nothing more than background noise caught me off-guard. Never again will I underestimate the power of a cell phone, even when it remains unanswered.
Swim practice and a birthday party, that’s just small stuff. There are many crucial conversations we’re going to have over the next two years. Before we can begin, I need to know he’s really listening.

Posted in Education, Habits, Media Addiction, The Learning Habit Study | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment