Self-efficacy and self-actualization are terms that have begun popping up in self-help jargon of late. And today’s parents, much like their children, are often looking for shortcuts and quick tips on how to raise better, more accomplished, empathic and successful humans. We try to afford them every opportunity to become their best selves, whether it be by giving them gender neutral experiences or the latest educational technique.
At the end of the day, one thing has proven the test of time: Mental toughness, aka resiliency.
While some resiliency is inherited, you can nonetheless help your child grow and strengthen their mental muscles by encouraging insight into the way they think, feel and behave. In sports psychology we call this a Mind, Body, Emotion Scan for short. In clinical psychology we work on growing insight.
You can cultivate this with your children by encouraging them to do these 8 things:
Empowering yourself means to see things both realistically and maintaining enough hope to keep moving one foot in front of the other. Don’t think you’ll be valedictorian or make it to Mt. Everest? What’s stopping you from working hard to get as close to that goal as possible? While there can only be one person who gets the gold that day, being your best and giving your best ends up being what matters in life. Someone else’s success should only serve as inspiration. Someone else’s bad attitude should only serve as education.
Set an example of how not to behave and a clue as to what they might need.
Regardless of its nature, every change comes with a loss. But every change comes with opportunity as well; in particular, an opportunity to challenge oneself and grow. Those who fare best in this world saw obstacles as challenges to overcome. You didn’t get the job? What are you going to do now? Lost a loved one? Perhaps there’s a way to honor their memory with a passion project. None of this makes the pain of the loss go away, but it puts that energy to use in a positive direction.
Work on playing chess. What’s your next move?
Your 3-year-old probably was great as saying ‘no’, but at some point we lose that intense desire for control and become people-pleasers. It is important to teach your children early to evaluate what is gained, what is lost, when to suck it up and give of themselves and when to say ‘no’ to avoid resentment. Teaching them to be aware of their feelings and then make choices based on how they value the rewards and consequences is key, as well as teaching them how to decline or set limits politely. This becomes notably important when your children encounter peer pressure.
Not only will they need to know how to say ‘no’, but they will also need to know why they want to say it.
We all make mistakes and as adults, most of us know this. But children often try to hide theirs to avoid getting in trouble. Having the fortitude to address a situation head on will toughen then up, make them brave, and prepare them to cope with the consequences that tend to catch up with us anyway. This is a great way to teach how to avoid unnecessary anxiety. Why worry about getting caught, always looking over your shoulder, when you can deal with the problem today. Similarly, teach them the value of apologizing for mistakes, whether intended or not.
It helps them to see that we can acknowledge that others have feelings about what happened.
Team sports try to teach this by making us congratulate the other team at the end of the game. Some children really struggle and forego the high five. But it’s an important skill to be gracious, to be supportive, to be respectful of not only one’s peers and teammates, but also of our competitors. Presumably, we compete because of the excitement of possibly winning. This means there’s always a chance of losing. Without this excitement the game loses its fun over time. Imagine playing soccer against a 3-year-old. Eventually you won’t feel quite as proud of making all your goals. The point is: respect your competitor. Play your best.
Play your best the whole way through the game. And play fair. That’s worth cheering for.
Get back on the horse
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over gain in my life. That is why I succeed,” goes the famous Michael Jordan quote.
Children do better when they understand that there really cannot be any success without failure along the way.
A hallmark of mental toughness is persistence. Continuing to work hard when things are tough or uncomfortable is no fun, but usually that process is what breeds success. Train in the rain, even when it kinda hurts.
Once you’re done you get to look back and know you survived and next time you will again.
We are in general a very encouraging nation. “You can do it” and “You can be anything you want to be” roll off our tongues. The truth is that this may not always be the case. Teaching your children to maintain optimism while also being realistic about their talents is an important skill.
Valuing hard work and effort over a trophy proves to me a greater indicator of lifelong success.
And that’s really what we are after anyway, isn’t it?