Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)

We all have times when we feel like giving up - when our jobs feel too hard or our relationships feel too stretched or life just feels too challenging. Of course, our children are sometimes going to feel this way too. When our children are struggling, how can we teach them determination and perseverance? How can we help our children to build the character that comes through perseverance? What do we say when our children feel like giving up?

Kylie Grimes, Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby gold medallist, visited school this week to talk to the older children about determination and perseverance. In 2006 she dived into a swimming pool and hit her head on the bottom, which resulted in a broken neck and quadriplegia. She has no mobility below her breastbone, although she has retained some feeling in her arms that allows her to control her wheelchair.

With such a life-changing event it would be easy to forgive Kylie for feeling sorry for herself and allowing her new circumstances to dictate a negative view on life. However in 2010, four years after her accident, Kylie took up the sport of wheelchair rugby, playing for London Wheelchair Rugby Club. She says, "After my accident I knew I had to get straight back into sports, not only for the health benefits and to get physically strong again, but because of the social aspect and being around people. It really helped me to focus on something and work towards a goal. I was hooked on the fast pace and extreme full contact between the rugby chairs. I had to play this sport." She says playing with and against predominantly male teams makes no difference to her. She was one of only two women to compete in the sport at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. "I don't consider myself as anything other than a rugby player. [The men] hit me just as hard, make me work just as much as them, they don't treat me any differently and that's exactly the way it should be.” She adds, “Some people say, 'Do you feel intimidated? Nervous?' Not at all. I absolutely love it.

Her determination in the face of adversity was humbling. She had a tremendous impact on the children who reflected deeply on their own levels of determination and perseverance.

Dr. Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania has spent many years studying determination, or what she calls “grit,” in child development. Her research has found that “grit matters more to a child’s ability to reach his full potential than intelligence, skill, or even grades.” Unlike IQ, which is relatively fixed, grit is the type of skill that everyone can develop. Just like our parents always told us, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

There are a number of ways in which we can encourage our children to develop their determination. Firstly, modelling behaviour for success is true of every single aspect of character in our lives. Our children are so much more likely to do what we do rather than what we say. If our children see us persevering through tough situations, especially if we talk to them about it, they will know that they can do the same.

Celebrating not the outcomes but the effort applied in overcoming a challenge for our children is key. It is always wonderful to find where our children naturally have skills and gifts, but it is also important to encourage them to extend their comfort zones and overcome. We will find that they tend to celebrate more and take more pride in the things they had to work hard to accomplish than the things that came easily to them.

A large aspect of school life at Yateley Manor is the opportunities available to the children. If our children only try things that come easily to them, they will never experience what it means to overcome. Staff at school constantly look to encourage and support children to take on new opportunities, because through this they will develop determination and confidence.

It’s so important for those with life-changing injuries to know that life goes on, and so can they. It’s equally important for sportsmen and women of all levels of ability to be reminded of what’s possible, and all that they are lucky to have: a team, a mission, a life to live to the fullest. You just have to go out there and get it.” (Kylie Grimes)