Raising mentally strong kids is every parents’ priority. And, rightly so. Mentally strong kids are better able to channelise their emotions, thoughts and actions when life is not at its best. Setbacks, challenges, disappointments, hardships and episodes of emotional turmoil are inevitable in life, and the best that we can do for our children is to help make their mental muscle so that they turn out resilient and are better able to show courage when situation demands.
But is it so easy to raise mentally strong kids? It isn’t, because schools, homework, games and other thousand things occupy every child’s to-do list.
It is so easy to miss teaching our children this very important life-skill that helps them reach their whole potential. And that is why, as parents, we need to look at the bigger picture to raise responsible adults of tomorrow.
How to raise mentally strong kids?
Like I said, it is not going to be easy. It is indeed, quite a challenge because it involves you as a role model too. However, we need to start somewhere, and we should start by –
1. Teaching our kids to replace negative emotions with realistic thoughts
Often, we think that children don’t have to deal with disappointments, hardships and struggles. But that’s not true – just like us adults children to go through self-doubts, negative thoughts, criticism and much more. And these negative thoughts gradually affect a child’s behaviour and actions.
As parents, we tend to comfort our children, by mostly saying things like “don’t worry” or “think positive”. What we fail to teach them is to think realistically and build their self-esteem. But that is not always positive – overconfident kids get very hurt when they face real-life challenges.
Teach your children not to assume but measure their thoughts with evidence. Do not confront your child’s negative thoughts by snubbing them off- but ask him what makes him think so? Share what you may possibly be knowing that makes him understand that his assumptions are baseless.
If your child fails at a certain subject, remember, there is scope of improvement at the next attempt, but not that he will score a 100%. That’s just the difference between realistic thinking and being over-confident. You know what to do now!
2. Helping them learn to control their emotions, so that they don’t react when emotional
As humans, emotions rule us. Human behaviour is guided by emotions, they influence us in many ways. Emotions help us survive, and that is why it is important to recognise, feel and cope with emotions – without giving yourself away to what you are feeling.
When our children are scared, lonely or sad, we parents are quit to snub their emotions saying, “don’t be scared”, “you will soon make new friends” or “don’t be sad!” This is, infact, a way to make your child feel that his feelings do not mater and are not validated. He may also feel that what he is feeling is wrong and he is unable to handle his emotions. That’s now what we teach kids who we wish to make mentally strong.
Talking about raising mentally strong kids, we need to validate their emotions, understand how their emotions impact their behaviour, and then teach them how not to get carried away with them.
Giving them choices on how to handle their feeling will also make them feel more confident to handle situations where he is emotionally vulnerable. Coping with their emotions, so that they do not act under them is one of the most important characteristic of children who are mentally tough, strong willed and have a positive, yet realistic attitude towards life.
3. Teaching them action and behaviour when things seem to go left
Thinking realistically and not getting carried away by emotions is only half the battle won – the other half lies in acting and behaving positively.
When kids take positive action and their behaviour is guided by what is the right thing to do – rather than what is popularly done, you can instantly know that the child is mentally strong. He can face his fears, handle his disappointments, and take challenges heads-on – without deviating from the core values that his parents have imparted.
This can be achieved by making your child understand his choices, and helping him make the right choice everytime. Do not just jump in your child’s struggles in an attempt to rescue him, but let him face it and eventually learn from it.
As they learn problem-solving, they will also know that they have the power to make a difference in their lives, and the others whom they share their life with. Little steps everyday will make them resilient, and the best version of themselves. Exactly what parents want, don’t they?
7 Tips to raise mentally strong kids
You may find many parenting strategies, techniques and other tools and tips that claim that your kids will turn mentally strong if you adapt them. But the catch here is, children are quite different from each other, though they all seem to be doing the same things at a given age. And that is why, what may work for my child, may fail with yours. Be realistic, you know your child better than anyone else, and then try using any of the below tips to help your child build the mental muscle.
1. Let your child make mistakes
Mistakes are stepping stones to success. They are a part of the whole learning process, so make sure you let your child make mistakes. Never mock, embarrass or shame your child for making a mistake. If its safe, let natural consequences unfold themselves, eventually talking about how to avoid making the same mistake. A child learns two important things – that it is okay and acceptable to make mistakes, and that they do have consequences. He also learns that he can avoid making the mistake to avoid facing the consequences.
2. Talk about your feelings, listen to your child’s
If you let your child how you feel, chances are your child will too confide his emotions in you without feeling ashamed, judged or being mocked. Let your child talk about his feelings freely, whether it is fear, discomfort, temptation, disappointments, stress or anxiety. Feelings are not restricted to being ‘angry’ and ‘excited’- and that’s why it is important to talk identify feelings because ultimately they affect our actions. Begin with YOU.
3. Teach your child to regulate his emotions
Now that he is able to recognise his feelings, you may like to teach him how to regulate his emotions. Being there for your child is natural but if you are always there to calm your child’s anger or support him through a disappointment, he will feel lost when you are not around him and he has a situation to deal with. Children who can recognise their feelings can also gradually learn to regulate them, and dealing with your uncomfortable feelings paves way for success and happiness.
4. Encourage problem solving – solo as well as a family
Problem-solving is a life-skill, so refrain from swooping in to solve your child’s problems. Continuing to do so is essentially robbing kids of learning opportunities, so let your child face and handle his problems, albeit making mistakes now and then so that he gradually learns to understand the consequences as well as the ability to solve a problem.
Even as a family or a team, do take opportunities to brainstorm various solutions together, especially when your child seems to be stuck on a problem. Helping your child pick the best, realistic solution to try is another thing you can contribute in.
5. Build character
Healthy decisions do not happen overnight, they happen because a child has been groomed in strong moral values. This is something parents need to work hard on, so that children imbibe the values and strong moral practices that help them make healthy decisions, even though they may not be popular choices. Teach your child the importance of compassion, honesty, gratitude and empathy.
6. Make him affirm personal responsibility
Accepting personal responsibility is an important aspect of building mental strength. Whether the outcome of his actions is positive or negative, acceptance and owning up the same are crucial. Allow your child to explain, but not make excuses. Your child should understand that he needs to own his actions and is morally responsible for the outcome. This may seem like a life-long challenge, which it is, but also paves way for a child who understands and accepts his responsibilities for his actions.
7. Be a role model
There is no doubt about this one – everything that you wish to teach your child, starts with you. Make yourself accountable, make room for self-improvement and ensure you display mental strength as a top priority – because you know what, children learn what they see.