Parents and educators want to help raise children who grow into capable, happy and successful adults. But to what extent are our achievements determined by our genes and by how we are raised and educated?

Paul Tough has researched the factors influencing how children succeed and released a now popular book on his findings. In a nutshell his argument says that character and “grit” are far more important in determining success than the IQ we are born with.

When we talk about grit and character, what do we mean? We’re talking about developing character traits such as conscientiousness, curiosity, optimism, gratitude, perseverance and much more. In essence, Tough is saying it’s more important to develop our social and emotional intelligence, regardless of the traditional intelligence we were born with.

Social and emotional intelligence might sound like new age vague ideas. In fact, they refer to skills and aptitudes that we know are important, but assume you either have or you don’t. But just as you can learn to be better at maths, you can learn to respond to life in a more socially aware and emotionally mature way.

In Tough’s research he talks extensively about the role parents have to play in ensuring their children develop these skills from a young age. And as you by now know, here at Education Equals, we believe that the role parents have to play in education is paramount to the development of their children.

As teachers, Charlene and I can readily identify those students who will succeed in school and life by the types of traits they exhibit on an everyday basis. I’d like to talk about a few of the character traits that help a child on the path to success, regardless of their IQ, and ways in which you can help your child develop them.

Perseverance (or grit)

I can always guarantee that those students who consistently persevere with their studies of mathematics will see strong progress and real success. I don’t expect that they can do so without support and guidance, but if they put in the hard work, even when their results are at first disappointing, they will achieve amazing progress in at most 1 year.

There are few students however who decide to persevere. Those who do generally do so because it’s in their character. Others, because they are feeling the pressure from their parents and teachers to put the effort in. Then there’s a special few who decide to trust you and give it a go.

It’s important that you give your child many opportunities to choose to persevere, even though this may be unpleasant for them. Provide them with challenges, especially intellectual challenges, and don’t allow them to choose to give up or give in. Push them forward and help them pull themselves forward with a clear goal and focus in mind. The earlier they learn to persevere, and the earlier they learn that the pay offs are worth it, the easier they will find the learning experience.


Students who are naturally curious are more suited to the school environment. A questioning and inquisitive mind will find an opportunity to learn something each day and is less likely to partake in boredom and apathy. I’m not saying they’ll find each and every lesson fascinating, but they will have the natural inclination to see what they can learn in each lesson.

To engage and develop curiosity, children need to be exposed to our fascinating world. Passive entertainment dampens curiosity and in turn, imagination. Where entertainment is always delivered to children, for example through TV and online games, they will find no opportunity to be curious. But where entertainment is active and requires input from the child, they will develop curiosity and imagination.

Check out our activities which are both educational in nature and also designed to spark curiosity and exploration. We also regularly share the great work others are doing in helping you to develop curiosity in your kids.


Conscientiousness goes hand in hand with perseverance, but is different again. Students who display a conscientious attitude show a desire to do their very best, with pride and dedication to detail. They display self-discipline and hard work, are organised and plan ahead.

It’s wonderful if your child is naturally inclined towards conscientious behaviour, but there is much you can do to help your child develop this trait. The first thing to do is help them develop their organisation. Reflect organisation in your home and in your routine, and help your kids do the same. Provide them with incentives to take pride in their room, their creative pursuits and any work they produce. Help them learn to keep a tidy and organised school bag, to neatly paste or file worksheets and to look after their belongings with care. This might take a lot of perseverance on your part, but as discussed above, it will be well worth it!


We have talked extensively about the importance of resilience to growing up as a well adjusted individual. Instead of talking more about it here I encourage you to read this post.

Resourcefulness (Self-Reliance)

A child that is resourceful and self-reliant has full confidence in their ability to learn anything and achieve their goals. They don’t feel constrained by their school, their family or their peers, and are completely confident of their ability to find answers to any question and to solve any problem they might have. They don’t feel like a victim of their circumstances or place blame on others, instead they look forward to the opportunity to find new ways forward.

I have a post on developing resourcefulness coming next week so stay tuned!

Embrace your children as they are, and at the same time help them develop character traits that will enable them to navigate life successfully. Character traits are not fixed, and with your guidance, you can help your children become empowered and wonderfully capable individuals.

Photo credit: lostinangeles / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA