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.

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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.

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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.

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The Learning Habit Study

ClassroomAre you concerned because your daughter cries at every single one of her soccer games? Are you irritated because your son drags out his homework time with constant excuses? Have you given up altogether on trying to control your child’s media use on the weekends?

School’s back in session and so are a whole new crop of challenges for parents. Wouldn’t it be helpful if parents were provided with concrete information on which routines and habits improved academic success, increased social skills and promoted emotional balance in children? That’s the goal of The Learning Habit study, a massive interactive online survey.

Scientists developed the survey to offer parents a unique opportunity to see how their family routines and habits compare to the routines of others and to find out how they impact social, emotional and educational learning. It is not a passive survey; it’s specifically designed to make parents really think about their involvement in their children’s lives.

“When it comes to controlling my child’s media use, I know I fall short and I feel guilty about that,” said Kim, a mother from San Antonio, Texas who, along with hundreds of other parents, assisted researchers last spring by taking the survey during its beta testing and offering feedback.

Kim reported that just taking the survey actually alleviated some of her guilt; the fact that the questions were being asked indicated, to her, that she was not the only parent struggling with this issue.

There are so many factors in a child’s life, so many influences that parents feel they neither control nor understand. The results of the study will be used to support parents in establishing habits and routines which help children to learn — “learning habits.”

The Learning Habit Study looks at a myriad of different factors, including parenting styles, academic achievement, emotional features, communication methods and family interactions. The goal is not to condemn media use or any particular parenting style, but rather to start a conversation about finding balance and see what those habits look like.

“I look around the bus stop at some of these children and wonder if their parents are doing something different then I am,” said Danielle, from Franklin, Massachusetts, who also participated in the beta testing. “I’m very curious to see what the study finds.”

Led by Robert M. Pressman, Ph.D., ABPP, the research team includes Allison Schettini Evans, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist at Brown University School of Medicine; Dr. Judith Owens M.D., MPH, from Children’s National Medical Center; and Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, M.S.W., LICSW, Clinical Director of The New England Center for Pediatric Psychology and best-selling author of The Narcissistic Family.

“Learning involves distinct neurological processes which can be heavily influenced by the development of new habits,” said Dr. Pressman.

The Learning Habit Study has partnered with some of the top media publications — including WebMD, The Huffington Post, Parents Magazine and the National PTA – to reach millions of families, making it one of the richest research projects ever to look at the complex of influences and behaviors present in children’s everyday lives.

Curious about the survey? Here’s how it works: parents with children in grades K-12 are asked a series of questions about their child’s age, grade, type of school (public, private, homeschooling) and typical behaviors. They are also asked some questions about themselves that relate to parenting style. For example, would they describe themselves as “flexible about rules and routines?”

At the end of the survey, parents can see how their answers to compare to those of other parents in several key areas. The entire survey takes approximately seven minutes and results are anonymous.

Findings will be published in the book, The Learning Habit, published by Perigee, available September 2, 2014.

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