The good news is that you don't have to wrack your brain or spend years going through painful trial and error to figure out how to do that.
There's a mountain of research that shows that kids who participate in at least 2 years of extracurricular activity are grittier. The grittier they are, the more likely they are to persevere, and achieve excellence in areas they are passionate about. And increasingly, the data shows that grittier people perform better in life.
Here's how Angela Duckworth summarized the benefits in her New York Times best-selling book Grit:
There are countless research studies showing that kids who are more involved in extra-curriculars fare better on just about every conceivable metric - they earn better grades, have higher self-esteem, are less likely to get in trouble and so forth. A handful of these studies are longitudinal, meaning that researchers waited to see what happened to kids later in life. These longer-term studies come to the same conclusion: more participation in activities predicts better outcomes. The same research indicates that overdosing on extracurriculars is pretty rare.
Why extracurriculars are such an important marker for success
There are a bunch of great reasons to get your kid on the soccer team, take them to piano practice, or enroll them on that dance team.
The time spent learning and growing in the skill is both challenging and fun, two essential traits needed to help you stick with something over time. Angela Duckworth gave insight as to why:
There's no other experience in the lives of young people that reliably provides this combination of challenge and intrinsic motivation. The bottom line of this research is this: School's hard, but for many kids it's not interesting. Texting your friends is interesting, but it's not hard. But ballet? Ballet can be both.
But it's not just about enrolling your kids into an activity and letting them test it out for a number of months. Data showed that commitment to the activity for at least two years is the tipping point that brings the desired results you want. Duckworth explains:
kids who spend more than a year in extracurriculars are significantly more likely to graduate from college and, as young adults, to volunteer in their communities. The hours per week kids devote to extracurriculars also predict having a job (as opposed to being unemployed as a young adult) and earning more money, but only for kids who participate in activities for two years rather than one.
That longer-term commitment gives your kids the chance to learn their strengths, and where they need to improve. And it gives them time to see the significant progress they can make as a direct result of their consistent hard work and effort.
How to get started cultivating gritty kids
Get them in activities early. It may take a little while to figure out which ones they like, and gravitate to, but over time they will find something they enjoy enough to want to stick with it.
Committing to a particular activity doesn't mean your kid has to become the next Lebron James, Serena Williams, or Yo-Yo Ma either. Investing the time and resources in the activity doesn't have to be their direct ticket to fame, fortune, a college scholarship, or even a related career.
Remember, it isn't about a specific outcome that happens from participating in the activity. That would be a lovely by-product. It is more about the grittiness they develop as a result of sticking with something even when it gets hard or challenging, that makes it worthwhile.
Give your kids a head start on life. Help them to discover the joy of participating in and growing in an extracurricular activity.
Encourage them and support them as they go along. Then sit back, watch, and enjoy as they reap the far-reaching benefits as they grow older.