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Helping teen clients develop true grit

Helping teen clients develop true grit

By Caren Feldman, PhD

Part one of a three-part series on fostering grit in teen clients

You may be wondering, “How as a therapist can I bring the latest research from the field of grit into my practice? And, more importantly, how can I foster grit in my teenage clients?”
 
In this three-part series, you will discover:
1) How to help teens develop a gritty mind-set
2) How to help teens develop gritty behavior
3) How to help teens develop a grit team and community
 
Part 1: Helping Teens Develop a Gritty Mind-set
 
How one thinks affects one’s behaviors and emotions. So, what type of mind-set fosters grit?
 
Make It about “Yes”
If you can help teens find the positive in growing their grit—or make it about YES —they will be more likely to persevere. People often try to be gritty by telling themselves “no”—no more feeling anxious, no more procrastinating, no more yelling. However, when we focus on the “no,” we often make things harder for ourselves. Look instead for the “yes”—the positive benefits of changing a behavior. When teens are able to think about difficult tasks in a positive way—what they will gain as a result of the new behavior and how satisfied they will feel—the tasks become easier and are more likely to be accomplished. Encourage your teen clients to see their grit as a “want to” rather than a “have to.”
 
Make It about Optimism and Failing Forward
Research shows that having an optimistic mind-set is linked to grit. Optimists are more likely to think of the bad things that happen to them as temporary and specific events set against a backdrop of mostly good. When we tell ourselves that we failed because of something temporary and specific, we are more likely to keep trying. Also, let your clients know that mistakes are part of the process and setbacks are opportunities for learning. Teach them the acronym FAIL: a fail is just a “First Attempt in Learning.”
 
 
Make It about Commitment and Meaning
It’s essential that teens are committed to growing their grit. Share with them the idea that, once committed to a gritty lifestyle, there is no other choice. Help them make rules for themselves like “I will go into my class even if I’m anxious” or “I will not use Snapchat until I have finished my homework.” Once they start having an internal dialogue or making deals—like “I’ll go into class in five minutes” or “I’ll just spend a few minutes checking my phone”—they have lost the battle! Lastly, help teens see how growing their grit can be meaningful to them and the world at large. When they can see that being gritty not only helps them but helps others as well, they will be more likely to persist.
 
Remember, mind-set matters, and by developing your mind-set in this way, you will learn to become more persistent and resilient.

In Part 2, you will learn how to put that gritty mind-set into action by creating gritty behavior! 

Caren Baruch-Feldman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and a certified school psychologist. She maintains a private practice in Scarsdale, NY, and works as a school psychologist in Harrison, NY. Baruch-Feldman has authored numerous articles and led workshops on topics such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, helping children and adults cope with stress and worry, helping people change, and developing grit and self-control. She is a fellow and supervisor in rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), a type of CBT.