What Toddlers Teach Us About Grit (Problem Solving)


The very term toddler implies that failure is imminent. We define this period in a child's life by the fact that while they’ve learned to walk, we anticipate that they might topple over at any time. And yet, this state of perilous uncertainty is typically not cause for alarm from parents, relatives, or strangers who observe the occasional mishap. Quite the opposite, we know that these temporary failures point to the enormous growth happening each day.

As for these tiny humans themselves, fear of failure is barely existent. As any parent knows, toddlers have an amazing ability to jump right back into running, climbing, and playing, despite repeated falls and head bumps. After a brief cry, my two-year old is back on the jungle gym, determined to climb higher the next time (but maybe hold on a tiny bit tighter).

You might say, toddlers have grit. They press on toward the things that bring them joy without hesitation and regardless of setbacks. It might take them months to master a new skill, but they never consider quitting as an option.

Adults can learn a lot from this way of approaching the world. Dr. Travis Bradberry wrote that in a study of 800 entrepreneurs, the most successful ones were bad at imagining failure and tended to not care what people thought of them. In her TED talk, Angela Lee Duckworth shares that grit was one of the best predictors of success across a wide range of outcomes including sales earnings, high school graduation rates, and much more.

It seems that somewhere between 2 and 20, many of us lose this inherent ability to press on through our troubles. We learn to sulk when we fail, to give up when we don’t win, and to point fingers to anything and everything but ourselves.

What could you accomplish by learning from a toddler’s mindset? What would you do differently if you knew that you might fail at any time (spoiler alert, you might), but accepted this as part of your personal growth and development?

I'm an experienced people manager, MBA, and dad who writes about business, leadership, and productivity. I'm constantly trying to improve myself, and I write because I hope my experiences might help other people improve as well.