When I was growing, we did not hear about things that are common today. Some of what was not common for me as a child are peanut allergies, gluten-free diets or celiac disease, or anxiety in children. I am not sure what changed. It could be an increased awareness, genetically modified plants, or several other reasons. But as parents, we can help to reduce the anxiety our children feel and raise our children to be mentally strong individuals. I have found the following seven tips to be helpful in raising children to cope with twists and turns of life.
First, teach your children to handle change and in positive ways. Change is a part of life. Nothing stays static even things that appear to be static. In science, we learn that even the tall tree in our backyard is changing, even if we cannot see the change. The change is often measured when the tree is cut down and its rings of growth are measured. When scientists measure the difference in the rings of growth, they can tell if the tree endured hardships, droughts, fires or had a year of plenty of rain to promote growth. Unlike trees, there is not a clear way to measure how the changes in the world affect our children’s mental health. From a young age, we should be teaching our children how to positively handle the change in their lives.
One way to help children positively deal with change is to teach our children to journal and write down how things are affecting them. Teaching your children to keep a gratitude journal or general journal is another way to prepare them to handle life in positive and healthy ways. By encouraging a gratitude journal, you will teach your child to overcome self-pity and other bad habits and destructive self-talk. It will teach your child to focus on the positives in life rather than dwelling on what is going wrong. Over time, your child will boost their self-confidence and learn pro-active problem-solving.
A third thing to do with your children to promote a strong mental health is to allow the child to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. Teach your child that failure is an option. When I was younger, no one stopped us from building bike ramps or swinging in the tops of neighborhood trees. However, when an injury occurred, we were taught about the consequences of our choices. Discussions focused on what decisions we made and what we should have done different, i.e. don’t swing from the tops of trees like Tarzan. Learning from our mistakes included errors in homework, chores, and play. I remember my brothers fixing the holes that they put in the walls from their roughhousing or fights.
Along with teaching children that it is alright to make a mistake if they learn from it comes teaching your child to take responsibility. Without being able to take responsibility for actions, a child cannot fully learn from their mistakes. Allow your child to explain what they did and thought process, but do not allow excuses for their actions or blaming another for the decision the child made. This was often taught to me by my parents saying, “If Johnny was jumping off the bridge, would you follow him.” While it seems outlandish even today, their point was received. I had to be responsible for my own actions and decisions and not follow my peers.
A fifth tactic is allowing your children to face their fears with minimal interference from you as a parent. Encourage your child to take small steps in overcoming their fears. Cheer them on when they accomplish a small step toward overcoming the fear. Celebrate their newfound bravery. Recognize the growth in their self-confidence while monitoring for foolish behavior. We often do this when we teach our children to swim. We allow them to float while holding onto their sides and then slowly remove our hands away slight to show the child that they are doing it all on their own. Apply this same technique with any fear your child has whether it is sleeping in the dark, talking to new people, playing outside, or trying a new sport or activity.
A sixth technique is teaching your child to handle loss or losing in sports. When I was a child, every game included a score, a winner and a loser. Now, as I watch my grandchildren play, there is not a scoreboard. Parents are asking if they know the score. Everyone wins and receives a participation trophy. We are forgetting about teaching our children how to lose as a good sport. How to control our emotions when things do not go as we planned. Polarity, or opposites, are healthy. How can your child know happiness if they have never felt sadness? How can your child know the thrill of victory, if they never felt the sting of defeat? How can your child understand how it feels to be first, if they were never last? Teach your child losing a game is not the end of the world or reflection on their abilities. There will always be someone who can do something better, but that does not diminish their value.
A seventh tip is to allow your child to be a child for as long as possible. Often, I hear about children being dragged into adult problems, such as divorce, and asked to weigh in. Your child is only a child once and the wonder of the world as they experience it is so easily tainted by our life experiences. Allow your child to wonder where rainbows end and what is at the end. Allow them to ponder why the stars do not fall from the sky. Refrain from asking which parent they want to live with more or which parent they love best.
If you need further help in finding ways to raise your children to be mentally strong, call our office for links to other blogs or a referral to parenting coach.