Building Kids with Grit

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Debbie-Jo and I wanted our kids to get dirty… not just on the knees of their blue jeans but on their elbows, faces, and toes. A child doesn’t know the feeling of a really good shower unless there is some hard-earned dirt flowing down the drain.

We also wanted our kids to sweat… a lot and often. The grind of reaching for, training for, and pouring hundreds of hours into a goal in music, art or athletics builds resilient, team-focused, and persevering hearts. Our kids learned more from falling down and getting skinned up or sitting on the sideline bench than they did winning a ribbon at the end of the race. Weaving grit into a child’s fabric is more about the journey than the destination.

My dad used to say, “It doesn’t hurt a fellow to hurt a little.” When kids get knocked down they need to know within themselves how to get up, dust their pants off and get back on the field. Bumps and bruises build perseverance. Parents who pamper and baby their kids rob their kids from growing up tough enough to succeed in life.

We gave our kids a choice in junior high and high school. Either actively play a school sport, thoroughly pursue a talent, or get a job. Another principle that went with that parental governance, “you finish what you start.” They all produce much needed gratitude, obedience, DISCIPLINE, and RESPONSIBILITY in the process. Fair, well-earned, and followed-through discipline is a way of life and a pathway to a heart with healthy calluses and a mind that understands and keeps boundaries. Our kids all failed (just like Debbie-Jo and I did) plenty of times growing up. Building repentant souls, understanding grace, and rebuilding broken hearts is the DNA of growing up with grit.

I reflect, with a chuckle in my belly, about the night one of our sons and his two friends got into trouble for being destructive. I was on the border of being really mad at these three knuckleheads. I told them in no uncertain terms that by the time we ate breakfast on Sunday morning they better rake and haul all the leaves in and around the Kamp driveway (and there are many Oak trees around that driveway!). At midnight, for some reason I woke up and thought it would be a good idea to check in on those three musketeers. To my chagrin I found them still outside, taking turns rolling down the steep driveway in the 55-gallon leaf barrel bashing into the rock wall at the bottom of the driveway. Yes, Debbie-Jo and I were often frustrated and frankly, baffled on how to discipline effectively while trying to keep our cool and not pull out all of our hair at the same time.

I love the visits with our 15 grandkids (and the number of chocolate chip pancakes it takes to feed them!) but I most admire the moms and dads that raise them. The most beautiful sight these old eyes of mine have ever seen was a glimpse of my son Cooper kneeling by his children reading the bible together before bedtime. Happy grandparenting is the result of many long hours of hard work “in the trenches” with your children playing sports together, building hobbies together, pursuing music and art together, crying together, laughing together, trudging through the rough disciplines of growing up together, laboring together, and intentionally faith training together, with daily regularity.

I love cheering for Brady as he brings the grit to his church in Illinois, for Cooper as he brings it to his five wonderful kids and financial management company in Chicago, for Courtney as she parents for 5 wonderful kids in Kansas City, and for Jamie Jo as she mothers her amazing two adopted and three biological kids with incredible valor while overseeing the Kanakuk Alumni Family. I tell you this only to say that our house (especially when all four were teenagers at the same time) was as messy as your house probably is. Many times, I thought I was a horrible parent. We walked through many dark weeks of depression, rebellion, injuries, broken relationships, rejection, loss of communication, and about every problem there is in a home of four active kids, but we just kept getting up in the morning and giving it our best shot.

In building true grit (thank you John Wayne) in children, life is your greatest teacher and failure is your greatest friend. Pampered kids with parents who continually spoil, over protect, and rescue when teachers, coaches, and bosses are tough and demanding — lack grit. They do not follow through with discipline and therefore their children are much more likely to fail in moral values, end their marriages in divorce, and quit when the going gets tough in professional life.

Kids who grow up with a sense of entitlement when “me and what I want” is the center of their world need a parent who is willing to buckle-up and put more grit in the family practice. A day with grit begins and ends with a bible at the table or by the bedside getting to know The Man with the truest grit of all, The One who pursued The Cross with passion in His eyes. Gritty kids know how to tithe their income early in life no matter how small. It’s kids who do their daily chores with respect in their hearts. It’s raising kids with manners at the table and “Please” and “Thank you” in their regular vocabulary. Grit is built in kids’ hearts by taking them on mission trips, camping and hunting trips, ‘help the needy’ outings, and teaching them the value of a hard-earned dollar.

It’s never too early to become intentional at building grit. It’s never too late to quit.

Together for the kids,

Joe White

KEYWORDS: Behavior, Spiritual Identity, Purity, Relationships, Family,