How to Raise Mentally Strong Kids

Nov 30, 2017

It’s easy to get so caught up in day-to-day issues, like homework and soccer practice, that you forget to look at the bigger parenting picture. Kids need skills to overcome challenges and rebound from setbacks and without proactive guidance, many kids aren’t developing the mental muscle they need to become mentally strong adults.

Here are three ways to help your kids develop the mental strength they need to reach their greatest potential:

1. Teach your kids to think realistically.

Kids struggle with the same kinds of unhealthy thoughts as adults. Catastrophic thinking, self-doubt, and harsh criticism are just a few thinking errors that rob kids of mental strength.

When kids express their concerns out loud, many adults are quick to say things like, "Quit worrying" or, "It'll turn out fine," when kids express concerns. And while that may give kids a temporary reprieve from their harsh inner dialogue, kids aren’t learning how to develop healthier self-talk.

The solution isn't to simply, "Think positive." Kids who are overconfident in themselves will be unprepared for the realities of a tough challenge.

But you also don’t want kids to think too negative. A child who thinks, "I'll never be able to pass math class," might not bother to study. Then, his negative predictions will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But kids who learn to reframe their negative thoughts can tell themselves something more realistic, like, "I can improve my math grade by studying hard, asking for help, and doing my homework." Kids who think realistically feel better about themselves and are more resilient.

How to Teach It: Teach kids to challenge their thoughts and prove themselves wrong. When your child says something negative, ask, "What makes you think that's true?" and "What is some evidence that might not be true?" Remind your kids that their brains don’t always tell the truth.

2. Teach your kids to regulate their emotions.

A national survey found that more than 60% of first-year college students don't feel emotionally prepared for the realities of life. Participants said they wished adults had spent more time teaching them how to deal with uncomfortable emotions, like loneliness, sadness, and anxiety.

When kids express fear or anxiety, most parents jump in and say, "Don't be scared," or "It's not a big deal." But that teaches kids their feelings are wrong or that they should suppress their emotions.

It’s important to teach kids how to recognize their emotions and cope with them in a productive way. A child who can say, "I'm scared but I can choose to be brave,” will understand his emotions and how to cope with those feelings. He'll also feel confident that he can handle uncomfortable emotions.

How to Teach It: Teach your kids to label their feelings. And rather than cheer your kids up or calm them down, show them how to do those things for themselves.

3. Teach your kids to take positive action.

Thinking realistically and regulating emotions are only half the battle. To reach their greatest potential, kids also need to take positive action.

Unfortunately, many parents rescue kids from their struggles. Or, they prevent kids from failing. And consequently, kids miss out on opportunities to practice taking positive action.

Taking positive action means facing their fears, persevering when they're tired, and acting according to their values--even when it's not the popular thing to do.

How to Teach It: Proactively teach your kids problem-solving skills and then step back and give your kids opportunities to practice taking positive action on their own. Set limits and give consequences when necessary, but don’t be afraid to let kids face the natural consequences of their actions.

To learn more about how to raise mentally strong kids, pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do.