Grit isn’t just about sandpaper.

Recent research has revealed that one of the best indicators of success in life is the possession of Grit.

What is Grit exactly?

Grit can be defined as “firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger” (

Collins Dictionary defines a person with Grit as such:

If someone has grit, they have the determination and courage to continue doing something even though it is very difficult”.

Now, before I proceed with my Grit(ty) story.

Here is another Dictionary Meaning of a word that I feel may actually play an important role in the development of Grit.

Helicopter Parent.

Definition of helicopter parent: a parent who is overly involved in the life of his or her child.


Or as explained by the Urban Dictionary:

helicopter parent

A parent who is overly involved in the life of their child. Then tend to hover over their every movement and decision. Often times they take control and do tasks on their behalf. They also enjoy broadcasting the details and events of their child's life to anyone who will listen. Helicopter Parents do not ease up with age, in fact as the child grows up the tighter their grasp becomes.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" "Where are you going, what are you doing, where is your life going?" "My child would never do something like that." "Oh, I just have to tell you what my daughter did..." "Can I come too?" "I wish Laura would shut up and stop talking about her daughter - what a helicopter parent."

by beep2014 February 21, 2014

I am a parent of 2 primary school aged children.

A mum who throughout her early parenting years, found herself, like many other parents of that generation thrown under the umbrella of being a helicopter parent.

When they are little it is hard to see what is wrong with that. I mean why would you not want to protect your kids from hurt, and perhaps equally protect yourself from having to live with the guilt of being responsible for their pain otherwise. In fact, a lot of research has also been done and a quick Google search supports that Helicopter Parenting has many merits.

So, whilst I am hesitant to place myself under that label as a parent, I would also be hesitant to proclaim that I did not (and still don’t) try to protect my kids from falls, failures, and negative feelings to a fair degree – and perhaps can actually relate to it more than I would like to admit.

The number of times I hear phrases pour out of me like “be-careful” “watch out” “no, that’s dangerous” is actually a little scary.

I must say though, that I am improving with age and time. I do recall being quite wary and cautious when the kids were little and used to come in to Make&Meld and play with the tools. My over vivid imagination would be quick to catastrophise many implausible events.

Nowadays, only 2 years later (the kids are now 7 and 9), I just let them do whatever they want with the hand tools and they can easily and confidently Saw stuff, Nail stuff, Drill things and the rest, without me being there to hold their hands throughout the process ensuring that they do not draw blood.

Anyway, back to Grit.

At Make&Meld we offer classes for children from 3 through to 12 years of age.

Having observed so many students of all ages over the last 2 years – along with their parent or guardians as they embarked on exciting and challenging projects with us, I feel that one of the things that really stands out in a child is their attitude as they progress through the process of fun but sometimes slightly manually intensive and challenging work.

There is a real scale that I would describe as a “grit scale”.

Where full Grit is when kids will do the whole project on their own.

Mid Grit: kids will ask for somebody to take over when it gets too hard.

And Lower Grit: where kids will expect their carers to do it from the start.

And all Grit in-between.

And please note as you read this that I am in no way qualified to be a Grit Expert and these are merely observations. Let’s also not forget that kids come in very many ages and abilities and those are very much taken into account with what we do, and most reactions are perfectly aligned to their ages.

I think that when most kids walk into the Make&Meld shed in Yeronga, in their minds, they are going to do the whole project all on their own without help and be real makers and experts at the tools. Very much in the same way they assume they could just put-on Ice Skates and become a real-life Tinkerbell (my daughter at 3 – very upset to discover it wasn’t actually easy).

Do not get me wrong though, some kids are actually immediate experts!

Now, although our projects at Make&Meld are varied, we try to formalise the process of working on a project from start to finish.

One of the first things we tend to get kids to start with, is to slightly sand their pieces. The pieces are generally all gently pre-sanded so there is very little to do thus it is mostly just a warm-up for all that is to come. That, and writing their name on their bits of wood which in itself is very fulfilling for those who have only just learnt to write their names!

Sanding can be experienced as; fun, boring, necessary, or all about doing your best-est job ever!! And it is usually at this point that you can already start to ascertain a students’ level of Grit. It’s also a perfect time to describe the word Grit in relation to Sandpaper! But no… just kidding… but not really, if you want to know more come and see us!!

After sanding we get into measuring up our pieces and getting familiar with rulers, numbers, concepts, and show off some cool problem-solving techniques.

And then it is on.

The real work.

The work that requires real Grit.

Depending on each child’s abilities – these processes are hard work.

Amazingly some kids are just incredibly strong, no matter what the age – I have seen some 3-year-olds Saw faster and harder than some 9-year-olds.

Some kids just get sore because their body is not used to the movements – but they keep persevering and look pretty damned proud once they get there.

Some kids will take ages to get there and you get filled with the desire to take over to help them out for the sake of time, but you also know that they are on a personal journey at that point and you would relinquish them their reward if you did - and that is a hard one, deciding when to step in – and how? So as not to damage the child’s potential to learn resilience and grit from that given moment.

Other kids may get easily distracted, these are often the dreamers or curious ones who are too busy taking everything in, to focus completely on the task at hand. And of course, there are always the talkers who have a need to stop frequently to share very important stories and bits of information with you.

Some kids just say it is too hard and get someone else to do it, albeit knowing full well that they have the potential to complete the task if they persevered.

No matter what the scenario though, the children are a joy to watch and teach and their level of Grit does not lessor my opinion of them in any shape or form. I just enjoy the observations.

What is interesting in all this and as you may have already gathered, it feels like there is a link between the child’s level of Grit and the level of Helicopter Parenting taking place throughout the workshop.

The kids that are going hard and super strong are usually the third child and mum is pretty laid back, whereas the kids with parents who might hover above them, are more likely to just hand the task over for the guardian to fix when it gets too tough.

If you are a helicopter parent, much like myself, don’t take offence to this! Especially as our hypothesis suggests positive results!

You see, the interesting thing is that we have had plenty of those kids who were quick to give up come back stronger and stronger with each visit!

We had one regular who hammered his thumb once and cried and felt broken, who returned the next week to be surprisingly so much better and focused when hammering that he had ever previously been.

So it appears as though Woodworking and other Handicrafts could actually help in the attainment of Grit!! And that Grit (the sandpaper variety) helps with woodworking!

Want to learn more?

Steps for improving grit:

1. Talk about your own failures

Talk about your own failures and how you overcame them with your children. That’s the best way to tell them that failure is part of the process.

Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, says:

Lots of parents don’t want to talk about their failures in front of their kids, but that’s denying kids the potentially powerful experience of seeing their parents bounce back. If they see that adults can mess up and then come back and solve a problem, that’s an important example they can use.

2. Don’t over-pamper

Don’t over-pamper. Don’t rescue them from non-fatal failures. Give them difficult, but manageable, tasks, which fluster them. This will help them build their grit muscle bit by bit.

3. Encourage gritty behavior

Encourage gritty behaviour by incentivizing it. Reward them, praise them when they show gritty behaviour.

4. Help them pick goals they’re likely to stick to

Help them pick 1-2 goals that they’re likely to pursue in the medium to long term.

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