Rethinking Challenging Kids

I was first introduced to Ablon’s TedX Talk during routine back-to-school staff training at my middle school. After a grueling day of meetings, speeches, and organizing, our staff gathered together and began our final training of the day with this video. Despite being tired and overwhelmed, everyone immediately perked up and intently leaned forward as we began watching Ablon’s presentation. I became instantly thrilled, knowing that his message cuts to the heart of our mission at The Grit Project.

“Kids do well if they can.”

On the surface, this is a logical, simple statement that most people would agree with. We could even expand that to “People do well if they can.” Of course they do! It makes sense, right? Unfortunately, our actions in dealing with others, especially children, do not always align with this premise. Teachers and parents often respond to challenging behaviors not with this premise in mind, but rather, “Kids do well if they want to.”

As Ablon continues, he explains the implications for operating under each of these two core beliefs when faced with difficult behavior. I am not going to steal his thunder—the talk is truly worth the 19 minutes to watch in its entirety— but the takeaway could literally be lifechanging. And not only in developing children’s grit, but also continuing to grow our own.

Problem solving skills, flexibility, empathy, and frustration tolerance are all skills. Some of us naturally and easily develop these, and others of us have a really difficult time. But these are life skills that can be taught and practiced. So, if “kids do well if they can”, but they are struggling, there must be some reason that they “can’t”. Our job as parents and educators is to step in at these points and help develop these abilities so that they “can.”

All of what Ablon says makes sense and sounds fantastic in theory. Working this into our everyday life is much more difficult. Here’s the truth that can be difficult to accept: we can’t MAKE our kids do something or change their behavior. We don’t have control over that. What we CAN control is our reactions to situations and behaviors. So by shifting our mindset as parents and teachers and approaching these challenges with a different perspective, we can practice our empathic skills and collaborative problem solving while building these essential abilities in our children.

The take away: problems are opportunities. Use these predictable problems as a chance to build your relationship with your child. Pause. Wait. Take a breath. And then work together to guide your child toward a solution. With persistence, you will be developing that coveted grit that we want for our kids.


About GritDavid Olson