Teaching your child how to be mentally strong is about so much more than preventing tantrums. This practice helps increase your child’s emotional intelligence, which is said by some researchers to have a large impact on their success later in life. It helps encourage your child to develop mental strength that will help them better face and resolve challenges as adults.
What Is Mental Strength?
Mental strength is having resilience and confidence to face of challenges, pressure, and stressors. It requires a balance of emotions and rational thinking that work together to maintain good behavior and decision-making.
6 Ways to (Gently) Teach your Child to be Mentally Strong
Teaching your child to be mentally strong is much different from the parenting trope of raising your kid to be “tough.” Traditional “toughness” often lacks emotional intelligence, instead encouraging children and teens to default to anger, aggression, or other outwardly “tough” signals instead of facing and managing their real emotions. True mental strength is the ability to acknowledge and handle emotions quickly and efficiently.
Below are 5 good ways to gently teach your child to be mentally strong.
1. Give your child responsibility
Give your child responsibilities. This helps them understand the link between their choices the consequences of their choices. For instance, choosing the short-term gratification of dawdling and goofing off over finishing a chore results in not being able to ride bikes with friends when invited. Failing to save or earn money means they won’t be able to buy the toy they want at the store.
A good place to start is with a simple chore chart. This can help give you the structure you need while giving your child routine. Holding your child accountable can be more complicated. This is especially true if you haven’t enforced chores before. Some tips?
- Start slowly. It would be unrealistic to expect your child to be able to manage 5 chores when they’re used to zero. Starting slowly can help them become more receptive to chores–and make your job of holding them accountable easier.
- Use age-appropriate chores. Children are capable of different chores depending on their age. Here’s a list we put together as well as some tips to help make it fun: https://kidsvillage.com/age-appropriate-chores-for-kids/
- Work together, especially if they’re young. What are your Childs (honest) capabilities? If your child has never cleaned their room before or is out of the habit, he or she will need some help the first several times. Guide them slowly, gently, and do your best to make it fun. Not only will this help them finish the job with quality and diligence, but it will also make it easier for you later since they will do the job well and with less fuss.
2. Hold them accountable
If you’ve assigned chores for your child around the house, make sure they’re held accountable to completing them. It’s usually best for young children to stick with small chores that they should complete daily, whereas older children can be challenged to remember to complete weekly or monthly chores.
Make sure consequences for not finishing chores are fair and relevant. “You didn’t finish cleaning your room this morning, so no ice cream after dinner.” Not only is this irrelevant, it’s also so distant from the chore that your child can’t emotionally make a connection to the cause and effect.
Try to avoid the consequence of not being able to keep a commitment (not being able to go to an activity, not being able to play with friends, etc. Instead, try to provide consequences that still allow them to keep their commitments.
Instead, try something like this: “Don’t forget, your room must be clean before you can play with your friends this afternoon.” If your child’s room isn’t clean when their friends come over, stick to it–tell them they must finish cleaning their room and their friends may wait outside or your child may join them later.
3. Make Room for Mistakes
In holding your child accountable, also allow room for mistakes. Even adults make mistakes. Help your child know that making mistakes is okay as long as they understand the mistake and take steps to prevent it from happening again.
For example, if a child drags a garbage bag on the tile, leaving a trail of spills while taking out the trash, don’t punish the mistake. This may only discourage them from wanting to continue to complete the chore. Instead, the mistake should be acknowledged and a future alternative offered: “Instead of ______, try _______.”
4. Encourage them to face fears and allow discomfort
Help create opportunities for your child to do new things. Enroll your child in group classes or activities. This not only helps teach them a new skill, but develops mental fortitude as they try new and challenging things.
Help them understand that being scared is okay and that sometimes trying new things may feel uncomfortable at first. Try reminding them about a food or activity they thought they hated but now love. Accepting the presence of fear or discomfort in some challenges develops problem-solving abilities and teaches a child to be able to handle future stressors flawlessly.
If your child resists a new activity, give them words for their emotions and let them know it’s normal to feel them. For instance:
Parent: “It seems like you may be feeling nervous about starting karate today.”
Parent: “Are you worried about meeting new friends or nervous about not knowing how to do any karate moves yet?”
Parent: “I feel nervous when I have to meet someone new or try something new too. Did you know that even grown ups get nervous when they’re trying something they’ve never tried before?”
Child: “They do?”
Parent: “Yes! All the time. But we just take a deep breath and remember that it’s okay to be nervous. All we need to do is try our best, get out there, and give it a try. It also helps to know that it’s new for the other kids in your class, too, so everyone is probably feeling a little nervous right now.”
Parent: “For sure. Do you want to try what I do? Take a deep breath. Remember that you can do hard things, even when they make you feel a little nervous. Now, it’s time to join your friends on the mat to listen to the teacher’s instructions.”
5. Teach them that being emotional is okay!
Mental strength doesn’t mean not having emotions. It means being able to acknowledge your emotions and manage them, even when it’s difficult.
The first step of teaching mental strength in children is helping them acknowledging their emotions. When your child is acting out or throwing a tantrum, it’s a good time to acknowledge their emotions and give them words to identify them. “I can tell you’re feeling very angry that mommy won’t buy you that piece of candy. It sounds like you’re frustrated because it really looks yummy and you wish you could have it.”
Once you acknowledge the feelings, you may find that your child starts to calm down–this often happens when the child is feeling understood. After understanding and acknowledgement are found, you can move on to other techniques to manage the emotions.
Don’t fall into the trap of telling your child to mask their feelings by using phrases such as “big girls don’t cry” or “come on, be a big boy and stop whining.” This can damage their ability to process their emotions later on in life. It can also lead to conflicts with other adults they might interact with, such as colleagues, supervisors, or significant others.
6. Prioritize mental health as a family
If you keep the topic of mental health openly on the table, it helps the whole family to stay mentally well. Being a good example and practicing your own mental exercises can help you be a good example for your child. They learn most from modeling after you. Don’t forget that your own actions have a huge impact on teaching your child to be mentally strong.