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The key points of 'How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character By Paul Tough

In 'How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,' Paul Tough delves into the often overlooked aspects of a child's success that go beyond mere intelligence. Tough argues that character traits such as grit, curiosity, and self-control play a pivotal role in shaping a child's future. This book challenges conventional wisdom, presents new insights into child development, and offers implications for education and policy. The following key takeaways offer a glimpse into the core messages of Tough's transformative work.

Key Takeaways

  • Success in children is more closely tied to character traits such as grit and curiosity than to traditional measures of intelligence.

  • Seven key character traits are identified as essential for achievement: grit, curiosity, self-control, social intelligence, zest, optimism, and gratitude.

  • Children's exposure to stress and adversity can significantly impact their development, but resilience can be fostered through supportive adult relationships.

  • Educational systems should integrate character education into their curricula and create environments that nurture character growth.

  • Addressing social inequality and providing community and policy-level support are crucial for the equitable development of character traits in children.

The Foundation of Success: Character Over Intelligence

Challenging Traditional Views on Intelligence

The prevailing belief that intelligence is a fixed, innate ability is being overturned by new perspectives in educational psychology. Character traits, such as grit and perseverance, are now seen as critical components of success, often outweighing raw IQ scores. The idea that effort and dedication can shape one's abilities is gaining traction, suggesting that a growth mindset is essential for children to reach their full potential.

  • The myth of innate talent is debunked by Matthew Syed, emphasizing effort over natural genius.

  • Practice, dedication, and mindset drive success in various fields.

  • Case studies of Mozart and the Polgar sisters illustrate the power of sustained effort over time.

The Role of Character Traits in Child Development

In the landscape of child development, character traits play a pivotal role, often overshadowing the traditional emphasis on IQ and cognitive skills. These traits, such as grit, resilience, and curiosity, are critical in determining a child's ability to navigate the complexities of life and achieve long-term success.

Character is not innate and fixed but rather can be cultivated through experiences and relationships. This understanding shifts the focus from what children are born with to what they can develop over time.

  • Grit enables children to persevere in the face of challenges.

  • Curiosity drives them to explore and learn.

  • Self-control helps manage their impulses.

Long-term Outcomes Linked to Character

The long-term outcomes of character development in children extend far beyond academic success. Character traits such as responsibility, ethics, and resilience are foundational to strong leadership and effective teamwork. These traits are not only desirable in personal life but are increasingly sought after in the professional world.

Trust, communication, and attitude are pivotal in shaping a child's future. A positive environment that encourages these aspects can significantly enhance a child's ability to succeed in various spheres of life. It is here that character development intersects with the ability to build and maintain relationships, both personal and professional.

The following list highlights the key areas where character has a profound impact:

  • Career advancement and job performance

  • Relationship building and social networking

  • Leadership roles and community involvement

  • Personal satisfaction and mental health

The Seven Character Traits for Achievement

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

At the heart of Paul Tough's exploration of character is the concept of grit, which he defines as a blend of passion and perseverance. Grit is the steadfast dedication to long-term goals, even in the face of challenges and setbacks. It's about maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.

Grit is not just about stubborn persistence; it's a more nuanced trait that involves working toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over time, and not giving up. This is exemplified in the stories of successful individuals who demonstrate that tenacity often trumps raw talent.

  • Passion: Deeply caring about goals and having an enduring interest.

  • Perseverance: The determination to keep going despite difficulties.

  • Resilience: Bouncing back from setbacks.

  • Consistency: Staying on track with goals over long periods.

The importance of grit can be seen in various success stories, where individuals with modest beginnings achieve great things not solely because of intelligence or talent, but because of their relentless pursuit of a goal. This aligns with the principles discussed in Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, where success is attributed to attributes like desire and persistence.

Curiosity: Fostering a Love for Learning

Curiosity is the engine that drives individuals towards continuous exploration and discovery. It is essential for academic and personal growth, as it motivates children to seek out new experiences and knowledge. By fostering curiosity, educators and parents can encourage children to embrace lifelong learning, which is crucial in an ever-changing world.

  • Encourage questions and exploration

  • Provide diverse learning materials

  • Create an environment that rewards inquisitiveness

To truly harness the power of curiosity, it is important to integrate it into daily practices. This involves creating opportunities for children to engage with topics that interest them and to explore subjects in depth. The goal is to cultivate a mindset where learning is not a chore, but a thrilling adventure that continues throughout one's life.

Self-Control: Regulating Emotions and Behaviors

Self-control is a pivotal trait that enables children to regulate their emotions and behaviors, which is essential for both personal and academic success. Mastering self-control is not just about suppressing negative impulses; it's about developing the ability to delay gratification, manage stress, and remain focused on long-term goals.

Self-management techniques are crucial for children to learn as they navigate various challenges in life. Emotional self-control and adaptability are key components of this skill set, allowing children to develop emotional intelligence that will serve them well into adulthood.

  • Emotional Self-Control: Learning to manage feelings in healthy ways.

  • Delayed Gratification: The ability to wait for a reward, fostering patience and planning.

  • Stress Management: Techniques to cope with and reduce stress.

  • Focus on Goals: Keeping long-term objectives in sight, despite short-term distractions.

Social Intelligence: Understanding and Navigating Relationships

In the realm of child development, social intelligence is crucial for building meaningful connections and navigating complex social environments. It involves the ability to understand and respond to the intentions, emotions, and behaviors of others. Children with high social intelligence can better handle interpersonal relationships and are often more successful in both personal and academic settings.

Social intelligence is not just about being friendly or likable; it's about being aware of social cues and knowing how to act on them effectively. This skill set includes empathy, conflict resolution, and the ability to work well in teams.

  • Empathy: Understanding others' feelings and perspectives.

  • Conflict Resolution: Navigating disagreements constructively.

  • Teamwork: Collaborating effectively with peers.

Zest: Living with Energy and Enthusiasm

Zest is often characterized by a dynamic energy and an enthusiastic approach to life's tasks and challenges. It is not just about being energetic; it's about channeling that energy towards productive and meaningful activities. Zestful individuals tend to engage more deeply and persistently, making them more likely to achieve success through hard work and dedication.

  • Balance patience with urgency when pursuing goals.

  • Embrace a growth mindset, allowing for continuous learning and adaptation.

  • Cultivate consistency in efforts, ensuring that enthusiasm translates into long-term achievements.

Encouraging zest in children involves more than just promoting activity; it requires nurturing a spirit that finds joy and motivation in the process of overcoming obstacles and striving for excellence.

Optimism: Maintaining a Positive Outlook

Optimism, the tendency to expect the best possible outcome, is a cornerstone of resilience and a predictor of academic and personal success. Children who maintain a positive outlook are more likely to persevere through challenges and view setbacks as opportunities for growth. The cultivation of optimism in children can lead to a more engaged and fulfilling life.

Optimism is not about ignoring life's difficulties, but rather about approaching them with a mindset that positive change is possible. This trait can be nurtured through practices such as positive reinforcement and modeling by adults.

  • Encourage children to set realistic goals

  • Teach problem-solving skills

  • Model positive thinking and behavior

  • Celebrate small successes

Gratitude: Appreciating and Expressing Thanks

Gratitude, often overlooked, is a powerful character trait that can significantly enhance a child's capacity for joy and satisfaction. Teaching children to recognize and express thankfulness can lead to a more positive and resilient mindset. It's not just about saying 'thank you'—it's about cultivating an attitude of appreciation for what they have and the people around them.

  • Recognize everyday blessings

  • Express thanks to others regularly

  • Reflect on positive experiences and lessons learned

Encouraging children to keep gratitude journals or to share what they are thankful for during family meals can help make gratitude a daily practice. This simple act can transform their outlook on life, fostering a sense of contentment and a generous spirit.

The Impact of Stress and Adversity on Children

Understanding Toxic Stress and Its Effects

Toxic stress refers to the excessive or prolonged activation of the body's stress response systems, often as a result of intense adversity or trauma. Unlike manageable stress, which can promote growth, toxic stress can impair a child's brain development and overall well-being.

The effects of toxic stress can be profound and long-lasting, influencing a child's emotional regulation, cognitive abilities, and even physical health. It's crucial to recognize the signs of toxic stress early to mitigate its impact.

  • Disrupted learning and behavior

  • Increased risk of health issues

  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships

Understanding and addressing toxic stress is not just about immediate relief but also about fostering long-term resilience. As Amy Morin's '13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do' suggests, cultivating positive habits, embracing change, and prioritizing self-care are essential for resilience and personal growth.

Building Resilience in the Face of Challenges

Resilience is not an innate quality but a skill that children can develop over time. Building resilience is crucial for young individuals to adapt to adversity and thrive despite the challenges they face. It involves a dynamic process that encompasses learning from failure and having the courage to persevere.

  • Recognize and validate emotions

  • Encourage problem-solving skills

  • Foster a growth mindset

  • Promote healthy risk-taking

By systematically supporting children in these areas, we lay the groundwork for them to handle stress and recover from setbacks. This proactive approach to building resilience can transform how children view obstacles, not as insurmountable barriers but as opportunities for personal growth and learning.

The Role of Supportive Adult Relationships

Supportive adult relationships play a pivotal role in the development of a child's character. Adult mentors, such as parents, teachers, and coaches, provide the necessary guidance and support that can help children navigate through challenges. These relationships often serve as a foundation for building resilience and fostering a sense of security.

Trust and consistency in these relationships are crucial for children to feel safe in exploring their environments and taking developmental risks. A strong bond with a caring adult can significantly influence a child's ability to develop positive character traits and cope with adversity.

The impact of these relationships can be seen in various aspects of a child's life, including academic performance, social skills, and emotional well-being. Here are some key benefits:

  • Enhanced ability to cope with stress

  • Improved problem-solving skills

  • Greater emotional support during difficult times

  • Increased likelihood of academic success

  • Better social interactions and relationships

Educational Implications and Strategies

Rethinking Educational Priorities and Practices

In the quest to cultivate successful students, the focus is shifting from traditional academic metrics to a more holistic approach. Educators are now recognizing the importance of character development as a cornerstone of educational success. By rethinking educational priorities and practices, schools can create an environment that promotes not only intellectual growth but also the cultivation of essential character traits.

Character education should not be an add-on or afterthought; it requires integration into the very fabric of the school's curriculum and culture. This integration can take many forms, from classroom discussions to project-based learning that encourages traits like grit and self-control.

  • Encourage reflective practices among students

  • Provide opportunities for collaborative learning

  • Foster a growth mindset through constructive feedback

  • Design activities that challenge students and build resilience

Integrating Character Education into the Curriculum

Integrating character education into the curriculum is a strategic approach to foster essential life skills alongside academic knowledge. Character education should not be an add-on but rather woven into the fabric of school life. This integration can be achieved through various methods, such as embedding character traits into lesson plans, creating projects that encourage reflection, and promoting a culture of gratitude and respect.

  • Encourage students to set personal goals that align with character traits.

  • Design activities that require teamwork and social intelligence.

  • Provide opportunities for students to practice gratitude, such as thank-you notes or community service.

It is crucial to recognize that character education complements traditional subjects, enhancing students' ability to apply their knowledge in real-world scenarios. The development of character traits such as grit and optimism prepares students for the inevitable challenges they will face, promoting creative problem-solving and resilience.

Creating Environments That Foster Character Growth

To cultivate the character traits that lead to success, educational environments must be intentionally designed to support this growth. Schools and classrooms should serve as nurturing grounds where character development is as valued as academic progress.

Character growth is facilitated not just by curriculum, but by the overall atmosphere of the educational setting. Teachers and educators play a crucial role in modeling and reinforcing these traits through their interactions with students.

  • Encourage risk-taking and resilience by providing safe spaces for failure and learning.

  • Foster collaboration and social intelligence through group projects and peer learning.

  • Promote self-control and grit by setting high expectations and providing consistent feedback.

By integrating character education into daily routines and practices, schools can build environments that not only enhance academic skills but also equip children with the essential qualities needed for long-term success.

Policy Implications and Social Considerations

Addressing Inequality and Its Impact on Character Development

Inequality in society often translates into disparities in education and development opportunities for children. Discrimination and disparities have profound social and economic implications, affecting social cohesion, trust, and opportunities. To combat these issues, education reform and equal opportunity initiatives are essential.

  • Ensure equal access to quality education for all children

  • Provide additional support and resources in underprivileged communities

  • Promote diverse and inclusive learning environments

Education reform and equal opportunity initiatives are recommended to address these issues effectively. By doing so, we can help level the playing field and give every child a fair chance at developing the character traits necessary for long-term achievement.

The Need for Community and Policy-Level Support

The success of children in developing character traits is not solely an individual journey; it is deeply influenced by the surrounding environment. Community involvement plays a crucial role in providing a supportive backdrop for personal growth, offering both accountability and opportunities for development. Similarly, mentorship is a key component in guiding young individuals towards resilience and leadership.

Policy-level support is essential to create systemic changes that foster environments conducive to character development. This includes funding for programs that emphasize character education, as well as policies that address the broader social and economic factors affecting children's lives.

  • Ensure access to quality education and after-school programs

  • Promote family and community engagement in schools

  • Support mental health services for children and adolescents

Measuring Success Beyond Academic Achievement

In the quest to redefine success for children, it becomes crucial to look beyond traditional academic metrics. Success is multifaceted, encompassing a range of skills and attributes that are not captured by test scores alone. To truly measure a child's potential, we must consider their emotional intelligence, social skills, and ability to overcome adversity.

Character development is an essential component of a child's growth, and it can be a more reliable indicator of future success than academic performance. This broader perspective on achievement encourages a holistic approach to education and personal development.

  • Emotional Intelligence

  • Social Skills

  • Resilience

  • Creativity

  • Empathy

The concept of success should be inclusive, reflecting the values and challenges of our society. It is about preparing children to be well-rounded individuals who can navigate the complexities of the modern world with confidence and compassion.


In conclusion, 'How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character' by Paul Tough offers a compelling exploration of the factors that contribute to the success of children beyond traditional academic measures. Tough's research underscores the importance of character traits such as grit, perseverance, and curiosity, which are often overlooked in the education system. The book challenges parents, educators, and policymakers to rethink the value placed on these non-cognitive skills and to create environments that nurture their development. By focusing on character development, we can equip children with the tools they need to navigate life's challenges and achieve their full potential. Tough's insights are a valuable contribution to the ongoing conversation about what it truly means to succeed and how we can best support the next generation in their journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the central thesis of 'How Children Succeed' by Paul Tough?

The central thesis of the book is that character traits such as grit, curiosity, and self-control are more critical to a child's long-term success than traditional measures of intelligence, like IQ.

Which character traits are emphasized in 'How Children Succeed'?

The book emphasizes seven character traits for achievement: grit, curiosity, self-control, social intelligence, zest, optimism, and gratitude.

How does Paul Tough challenge traditional views on intelligence?

Paul Tough challenges traditional views by arguing that non-cognitive skills, or character traits, are more indicative of success than cognitive skills like IQ scores and academic achievements.

What role does stress play in a child's development, according to the book?

The book discusses the concept of toxic stress and its detrimental effects on a child's development, but also highlights the importance of building resilience and the positive impact of supportive adult relationships.

How can educational systems integrate character education according to 'How Children Succeed'?

Paul Tough suggests that educational systems should rethink their priorities to include character education, integrate these traits into the curriculum, and create environments that nurture character growth alongside academic learning.

What are the policy implications discussed in 'How Children Succeed'?

The book discusses the need for policies that address inequality and its impact on character development, the importance of community and policy-level support, and the idea of measuring success beyond traditional academic achievements.

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