Being gritty, having self-control in the face of temptations, and rebounding from failure are not easy. However, there are ways that we know from science that makes it easier for us to have stick-to-it-ness. The question is what are some ways that can put you in the driver’s seat as opposed to being driven by your temptations?

A growing body of research is finding that grit, self-control, and a positive mindset can have a strong influence on the academic achievement and emotional well-being of children and teens. Furthermore, these qualities have been found to be the “secret sauce” to their success.  The professional development will focus on helping school personnel bring concepts such as grit, self-control, and a positive mindset to their classroom and interactions with students.


It is the second day of the state math test at Harrison Avenue Elementary School in Westchester County, New York. Persee, the perseverant puppy mascot, sits on top of the smart board in a third grade classroom, a reminder to students of the instruction they have been given throughout the school year that “perseverance pays off!” When faced with a challenging question, Persee reminds these third graders to exhibit an optimistic mindset, use flexible strategies in the face of obstacles, and to treat themselves with kindness and compassion.

What is happening at Harrison Avenue, the elementary school where I work as a school psychologist? And, more importantly, how did we get here?

Persee is part of a transformation taking place where I work as a school psychologist. Our school has joined a larger movement of schools committed to teaching not only academics but also character strengths like kindness, mental flexibility, grit, and self-control. Together with classroom teachers, I am teaching what kindness looks like in each grade, why self-control and grit are important, and how flexibility and problem solving can be used when facing an obstacle.

As part of the fifth grade service club, our fifth grade students are learning more about service. And what better way to give back than to your own community? For the past few years, our fifth graders have served as teachers, role models and accountability partners to our younger students, teaching them what they wish they knew when they were younger.

Having the older students teach these skills is a win-win. I have found, and the research supports, that older students are often more receptive and willing to change when they serve as role models and teachers as opposed to being passive recipients or beneficiaries of information. It is hard for my fifth graders to exhibit poor self-control after they have just finished teaching a lesson to kindergarten students on how “Good things come to those who wait.” Serving as role models creates memorable experiences for all involved (the teachers, older and younger students).

Through this work, I have noticed students seeking out more opportunities to be kind. For example, while walking in the hall, I see students greet each other with big hellos and smiles. They make an effort to hold the door for each other or pick up someone’s pencil. Students have shared with me that they have created a spot on the playground where you can go if you don’t have anyone to play with, and others know to join you there. In this way, the students create ripples of kindness that affect the whole school community.

Students are also being more deliberate and strategic in the use of self-control strategies. They are avoiding temptations (putting away supplies that distract them) or reframing those temptations (Is it worth it to play with the little papers in my desk?) instead of relying on willpower alone. They are learning to be more flexible when it comes to solving academic problems or taking turns at recess. By learning to embrace challenges, they are becoming more willing to take on hard things. Instead of taking failures personally, they are viewing them as part of the process that leads to success.

By directly and explicitly teaching the character skills students need to succeed, we are preparing them to be tomorrow’s leaders.  I am proud to be part of a school that is committed not only to growing childrens academic proficiency, but also to nurturing their character. I know that the students, teachers, and the community at large have all benefited from this work.

If you are interested in joining this world movement to cultivate students’ intellectual minds, as well as develop students’ character strengths and well-being, check out IPEN (International Positive Education Network) IPEN is dedicated to a  ‘character + academics’ approach to education around the world.

Save the Date & Join Me: Book Launch – July 9th: 4-6 pm at Barnes & Noble, Eastchester, NY. Please see my website ( for information about my upcoming book, titled, The Grit Guide for Teens: A Workbook to Help You Build Perseverance, Self-Control, and a Growth Mindset will be released July 1, 2017.


It’s 5:00 AM. I stumble out of bed and try to leave my bedroom quietly so I won’t wake my husband. Half asleep and desperately in need of my first cup of coffee, I open my computer and wait for the words to flow. On most days, it is hard work. (By the way, the words for this blog are not coming so quickly either.) Nevertheless, I am up against a deadline for my first book, The Grit Guide for Teens: A Workbook to Help You Build Perseverance, Self-Control, and a Growth Mindset, and it’s not going to write itself.

I often reflect on how much grit I needed to write my first book, a workbook that teaches teens how to be gritty. In this months blog, I would like to share what I have learned about grit by writing a book on the topic.

Focus on the positive, or find a higher purpose for the task.

Taking on hard things is work. However, if you can connect to and find the positive in the process, the work changes from a “have to” to a “want to.” On those dark and early mornings when all I wanted to do was sleep in, I reminded myself why I started the project in the first place. I wanted to share with others why grit has been essential to my success and has helped the teens I work with navigate an ever-changing world. When I was able to connect to this passion and higher purpose – why the book would benefit myself and others- I was able to persevere.

The next time you take on a difficult task or project, see if you can connect to your passion and find a higher purpose in the work.

Know that there will be obstacles along the way.

It is hard to feel positive or energetic about a project when you hit a snag. In those moments, it is easy to lose sight of your progress and get caught up emotionally in the next obstacle.

What I found helpful was to remind myself that obstacles are inherent in the process and to see a “fail” as a “first attempt in learning.” For example, I received some very nice “no’s” from people who were too busy to review my book. But instead of focusing on what I perceived to be a rejection, I tried to look at it in a positive light. Even though they said no, asking them allowed me to get my work in front of people I admire. In addition, putting myself out there, and exhibiting what I call “social grit,” made me stronger, and braver. By having this mindset, I was able to approach challenges with optimism and competence (ways that research shows are associated with increased grit).

Don’t get me wrong, there is a sting that accompanies a setback, but if you can reframe your setbacks, you will gain the inner strength to stick with things that are hard but meaningful.

It is not enough to talk the talk; you need to walk the walk.

As I tell the teens I work with, it is not enough to think about changing, they need to actually change their behavior. It’s easy to believe that we need to wait for the motivation before taking on something hard. What I learned from writing my book is that it often works in the reverse. I found that by engaging in the behavior (writing), the thinking and ideas would follow. At times, just like my teens, I would be tempted to wait for inspiration. However, what I actually needed to do was make a habit of sitting down and writing, even when nothing was flowing. This commitment, which ultimately turns into a habit, makes possible the change we are all looking for.

There is an “I” and a “T” in the word grit.

Although gritty individuals work on themselves (the “I”), no one achieves real success without their team (the “T”). The teens I interviewed for my book all told me they reached out to others when trying to reach their goals and grow their grit. While working on my book, I too reached out to friends, family, and colleagues who listened, empathized and gave me essential feedback (and did all those things repeatedly). Without their support, I would not have been able to finish my book.

A final thought: I recently participated in the Leatherman’s Loop, a 10K race through branches, mud flats and river crossings. As I traversed the challenging terrain, I found myself drawing upon my gritty thinking, as well as the support of friends (thanks Helene for holding my hand through the mud flats!). I noticed many people wearing orange shirts with the word “Doug” on them. I asked one of the orange-shirted participants about his shirt, and he told me they wore them in honor of his close friend Doug who loved this race but died too early, ten years ago. Ever since, Doug’s family, friends, and colleagues come out and run the race in his honor. Finding this higher purpose and doing it with the support of others shows what true grit is all about.

I have learned a great deal about grit from writing my first book. I continue to be inspired by people, like the orange shirt folks, who are true exemplars of grit. When we have a positive mindset, committed behavior, social support, and a higher purpose we can achieve true greatness. Wishing you much success in all the hard things you do!

Please see my website ( for information about my upcoming book, titled, “The Grit Guide for Teens”. Additional blogs, articles, and presentations are available on the website. You can follow me at twitter at carenfeldman@carenfeldman.

© 2017 Caren Baruch-Feldman

Join us for a panel discussion surrounding academic stress, anxiety, competition and staying level-headed in the high-stakes high school environment. We will shed light on the topic, discuss research and offer tools for parents and kids to have at their disposal.
Register at or call 914-722-1302
Scarsdale Public Library – 54 Olmsted Rd., Scarsdale, N.Y. – (914) 722-1302 –

Marcella Moran is the founder of The Kid Organizer & The College Kid Organizer, and the Director at Hudson Learning Lab. A licensed psychotherapist, she works with families to develop positive strategies for students who are disorganized.

Randi Silverman co-founded a local community Parent-to-Parent Support Group for parents raising children who have issues with anxiety, depression, and/or mood disorders. She also produced the multi-award winning film, NO LETTING GO and founded The Youth Mental Health Project.

Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman is a psychologist and the author of the upcoming book titled, The Grit Guide for Teens. She uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help children and adults with depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

Dr. Mitch Samet is a school psychologist and New York State licensed psychologist in private practice. He has over 25 years of experience working with children, young adults and families and is currently a school psychologist, a clinical team coordinator and a supervising psychologist.

Dr. Ken Cotrone, former Assistant Principal of Byram Hills High School, is passionate about the dangers surrounding academic stress and anxiety and completed a dissertation on the topic. As the new Executive Director of Soundview Prep School, he continues to raise awareness.

Dr. Suzanne Braniecki, NYS licensed psychologist with specialized training in pediatric neuropsychology, conducts neuropsychological evaluations at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center. She is also an assistant professor at New York Medical College.

“Other People Matter”- Chris Peterson

March 20th was The International Day of Happiness. In celebration, throughout the month of March, I received emails sharing ways to increase my happiness. What struck me was that none of the emails suggested buying a pair of expensive shoes or a box of chocolates. Instead, the focus, and rightly so, was on what Positive Psychologist, Chris Peterson, meant by saying, “Other People Matter.” By making other people matter, happiness in the truest and deepest sense of the word is achieved.  When I think about what truly makes me “happy” and gives life meaning, it is my connection to and my ability to help others. I feel incredibly privileged that as a psychologist I “get to” focus on helping others. However, not all of us have those types of jobs. So even if you don’t have a helping job, here are three easy ways based on my three favorite musicals that will allow you to turn a day of happiness into a lifetime of happiness.

  1. “Talk Less, Smile More” – “Aaron Burr, Sir,” Hamilton: An American Musical

I must confess that seeing Hamilton for a normal price made me very happy. However, not all of us are that fortunate. But, all of us can learn from a line from the song, “Aaron Burr, Sir.” In this song, Aaron Burr encourages Hamilton to “talk less, smile more.” When we are in the presence of smiling people, we feel happy. The underlying, neurological reason for this reaction is that we all have mirror neurons. Mirror neurons mirror back the emotions of others. The converse is also true. When we are surrounded by anger or yelling (a form of talking), we mirror that emotional energy as well. So how can we use mirror neurons to our advantage? We can smile. At school, I smile and say, “Hi” to all. I have trained the kids so that when they see me, they also smile and say “hello.” The exchange of smiles and hellos starts our days off on the right foot. It’s so easy and costs nothing, so if you want to increase happiness in yourself, family, or the larger community, say “hello” with a big smile and let it be contagious.

  1. “Can Anybody See, Is Anybody Waving Back At Me?” – “Waving Through A Window,” Dear Evan Hansen the Musical

As a psychologist, I am often struck by how many children, teens, and adults feel that they are “tap, tap, tapping on a glass” but that no one is waving back at them. The need to belong is universal. Without it, we feel lost, adrift, and often depressed. So what can you do? Be inviting. Make an effort to be inclusive. Be the person who looks out for others. All of us live busy lives and it is often the case that people don’t mean to avoid waving back. However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all made a concerted effort to be a person who initiates the waving and also waves back?

  1. “Because I Knew You, I have Been Changed For Good”- “For Good,” Wicked the Musical

I have listened to this song a billion times (my daughter will confirm this fact). What is it about this song that touches me? And, what does this song have to do with happiness? The song resonates with me because I have found that through helping others, I have been changed for good. So how can you help others? Small things – like opening the door for someone or saying “thank you” to the person who serves you coffee or the colleague who helps you at work – allow you to be a change for good.

For the last six years, on the last Sunday of the month, you will find my daughter, my dog Brandy, and me at the United Hebrew Home of New Rochelle. We will be smiling, and tap, tap, tapping on the door, and asking patients, “Would you like a visit from our therapy dog, Brandy?”  What I have discovered is that bringing happiness to others and especially watching my daughter bring happiness to others is incredibly rewarding and creates more happiness than any box of chocolate or pair of sparkly shoes.

My challenge for you is that even though The International Day for Happiness has passed, let’s maintain the ripple effect of happiness by smiling more, waving back, and being the good you wish to see in the world.

Please see my website ( for information about my upcoming book, titled, “The Grit Guide for Teens”. Additional blogs, articles, and presentations are available on the website. You can follow me at twitter at carenfeldman@carenfeldman.  © 2017 Caren Baruch-Feldman

So excited to be presenting at the Learning & the Brain Conference (April 9th at 2:45). A growing body of research is finding that grit, self-control, and a positive mindset can have a strong influence on the academic achievement and emotional well-being of children and teens. Furthermore, these qualities have been found to be the “secret sauce” to their success.  Dr. Baruch-Feldman is the author of the upcoming book titled, The Grit Guide for Teens : A Workbook to Help You Build Perseverance, Self-Control, and a Growth Mindset (July 2017). 

See link below to register.


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