It’s been more than a year since Paul Tough’s best-selling book “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character” revolutionized how we think of achievement.
Today, the author is still in demand as crowds of advice-hungry parents search for tips on how to build their child’s character and chances for success.
In the auditorium of a posh high school in the north suburbs of Chicago, a packed house of well-heeled moms and dads recently braved blizzard conditions to hear the lanky, affable Tough describe some of the scientific experiments leading to his belief that it is not innate ability, IQ or affluence that determines a child’s ability to succeed in school and beyond.
Well-cultivated skills such as perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control — which Tough rolls into the catchall term “grit” — are what he calls the ultimate keys to achievement.
Tough deviated from his book’s specific conclusions to address the question on the mind of every parent familiar with his character-based formula for success: “How do I make my kids more gritty?”
Tough made clear that there is no perfect formula for building character. Every child should have nurturing, guidance and support in dealing successfully with adversity.
“As parents, we want to shield our children from the pains of growing up and facing difficult situations, but long term we must honor our kids’ desire for some struggle,” Tough said, adding that the struggles between those with high incomes and high poverty are different and require distinct supports.
“I think a lot of people fear that the message of the book is that it’s only the kids who have to change but not the system, that if kids want to get out of poverty they just need grit and that’s it,” Tough told me after his speech. “They might be understandably anxious that lacking ‘grit’ is really just a substitute for character flaws, which is not the case.”