When I first made the switch to homeschooling my twice-exceptional son Asher three years ago when he was nine years old, my curriculum guru encouraged me to engage his natural curiosity by sharing with him what I was learning with regards to brain science and ADHD, giftedness, and Asperger’s. Since then, we’ve read many articles and books and watched tons of videos about everything from positive psychology and mindset to “grit,” the buzzword made popular by Angela Duckworth’s research, defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”
And over the years, I’ve found that the more Asher understands the WHYs for the kinds of things we’re working on with him, the more invested he becomes in the process himself. Recently while on holiday in Croatia, I got the chance to see this in action.
One morning, we decided to go on a three-hour sea kayaking tour. My husband Derin had his own kayak, while Asher and I were paired in a two-seater — he was in front (the “Captain”) and I was in the back (the “engine”).
The water was COLD and the waves choppy and we were going to be on the water for a while. Asher was looking forward to the whole thing, but I was more than a little concerned that sticking him on a small boat with no opportunity to stop, turn around, or instantly be warm and dry, could be a recipe for disaster. But I crossed my fingers and we struck out with the other fifteen or so people in our group.
Over the years, I’ve found that the more Asher understands the WHYs for the kinds of things we’re working on with him, the more invested he becomes in the process himself.
It only took a few minutes before a huge swell washed over the kayak and completely soaked us. (Did I mention the water was cold?). We both howled with surprise, but I shifted my squeals to laughter and soon Asher joined in. And as we made our way across the water to Lokrum Island, the strong headwind making us work twice as hard to make any progress, the waves continuing to sweep over our boat, Ash kept his positive attitude.
His arms aching, Asher took occasional breaks. But when I pointed out that without his rowing we were actually losing ground, he joined in with vigor.
I decided to up the enthusiasm to keep him going. “WOOT… we’re doing it Asher!” I shouted. “And just think… with every stroke of the paddle, you are developing GRIT, baby!”
This spurred him to row even harder, laughing as he turned up the speed about 150 percent, chanting Grit! Grit! Grit!
I had made the comment in jest, but I also knew it was true. I knew Asher was cold, wet, tired, and uncomfortable, with nary a book or iPad in sight. And I knew that being all of those things was actually a great thing for him. I knew it was helping him develop his perseverance muscle, not to mention practicing flexibility.
And because these are the kinds of things we talk about on a regular basis, he knew it, too. And that knowledge fueled him.
When reached our midway point — a little cove where we came ashore to warm up in the sun and down a ham and cheese sandwich — we talked about the challenges of making the crossing and discussed how great it would be to have the wind at our backs for the way home.
I knew Asher was cold, wet, tired, and uncomfortable, with nary a book or iPad in sight. And I knew that being all of those things was actually a great thing for him.
I couldn’t help but notice how happy and proud he was. He was the only kid in the bunch. He felt strong, capable, and accomplished. And when I mentioned how hard he’d worked as my rowing teammate, he beamed.
Grit. Patience. Flexibility. Perseverance. Our kids want to develop these traits. And they can build them one experience at time. Our job is to simply point it out when it’s happening. They’ll take care of the rest.
About Debbie Reber
Deborah Reber is a parenting activist, New York Times bestselling author, podcast host, and speaker who moved her career in a more personal direction in 2016 when she founded TiLT Parenting, a website, weekly podcast, and social media community for parents like her who are raising differently wired children. The TiLT Parenting Podcast has grown to be a top podcast in iTunes’ Kids and Family category, with more than 500,000 downloads and a slate of guests that includes high-profile thought leaders across the parenting and education space. Debbie’s newest book is "Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World" (Workman Publishing, 2018).
Prior to launching TiLT, Debbie spent more than twenty years writing more than eight inspiring books for women and teens, and working in TV and video production for CARE, UNICEF, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network. In 2013, Debbie moved from Seattle to Amsterdam, where she currently lives with her husband Derin and homeschools her 14-year-old son Asher.