It’s something I’ve been thinking for a while – we have become far too protective of our children. Sure, it’s only natural to want to shield our children from the harms of an increasingly complex world, but at what cost? Will this really help them be competent and mentally strong individuals in the long run, or are we in fact making a slew of parenting mistakes which dock their wings by being so protective of our children, and squashing their resilience and their ability to reach their greatest potential?
Today I have a Q&A Amy Morin, the author who identified the characteristics that mentally strong people share in her international bestselling book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do who has a new book out – 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, to help signal the parenting mistakes we should avoid if we want to raise happy and resilient children.
What do you see as the greatest challenges of parenting today?
For most parents, the biggest challenge seems to be in finding just the right balance between providing enough support and allowing kids to practice their skills on their own.
Good parents want their kids to succeed. But in order to help your kids succeed in the long-term, you have to let them fail, make mistakes, and flounder in the short-term. It’s tough to stand by and allow that to happen but real-life experience best prepares kids for the real world.
As parents we seem to have become preoccupied with keeping our kids safe – but what are the repercussions of this?
While it’s important to teach kids about danger and risk, being overprotective can backfire. Kids need to experience some pain in life. That may mean letting them get their feelings hurt or it may mean allowing them to get bumps and bruises. They need to know how to deal with pain and childhood is a great opportunity to teach them the skills they need to learn and grow.
Kids also need to learn how to evaluate risk on their own. Going outside without a jacket on a cold day teaches kids life lessons. Natural consequences can be some of life’s best teachers.
What are some of the biggest parenting mistakes we are making?
One big mistake is that many parents take responsibility for their kids’ emotions. They calm their kids when they’re angry, entertain them when they’re bored, and cheer them up when they’re sad. Their kids grow dependent on their parents to regulate their emotions for them.
Another big mistake is losing sight of our values. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day struggles of homework and afterschool activities that we forget to think about what we’re actually role modeling for kids. And sadly, the messages parents are trying to teach kids get lost in the day-to-day hustle and bustle.
How is this impacting on our children’s mental strength?
Many children aren’t entering the adult world with the mental muscle they need to thrive. For example, 60% of college students say they wish there had been more emphasis on teaching them emotional skills but they felt unprepared to deal with uncomfortable feelings, like loneliness, anxiety, and sadness on their own.
It’s important to send kids off into the adult world with confidence that they can solve problems, deal with self-doubt, and handle whatever life throws their way. But, before they can be confident in themselves, they need the skills and life experience to back it up.
What should we be doing instead to ensure we are raising healthy, strong and empowered adults of the future?
We can make mental strength a bigger priority. We spend a lot of time focusing on the importance of taking care of our bodies, but much less on caring for our minds.
There are tons of mental strength exercises we can teach kids. Many of them are quite simple. But, they’re really effective in helping kids learn how to regulate their thoughts, manage their emotions, and take positive action.
How can we improve our own mental strength as parents to facilitate this?
Make mental strength training a priority in your life. Mentally strong parents raise mentally strong kids.
That may mean changing a few simple habits, like exchanging complaining for gratitude. Or, it might mean labeling your emotions in conversations so your kids see that it’s important to be aware of your feelings. These little things take less than one minute per day but they could change the entire course of your child’s life.
Can you give us your five top tips for avoiding some of the parenting mistakes above?
- Use discipline, rather than punishment. Give your child consequences that will help her learn to do better next time, rather than a punishment that is simply meant to make her suffer.
- Know your values and get proactive about teaching them. Would you rather your child be the smartest kid in the class or the nicest? When you answer that question for yourself, ask your child what she thinks you’d prefer. You might discover you’re not actually teaching the values you think you are.
- Focus on teaching your child skills, rather than shielding him from pain. You can’t prevent all hardship in life. So rather than prevent your child from having hurt feelings or disappointment, give him the skills he needs to handle it.
- Refuse to attend your child’s pity parties. Don’t get swept up into joining your child when he’s feeling sorry for himself. Refuse to let him develop a victim mentality.
- Establish a clear family hierarchy. While it’s healthy to show your child that you respect his opinion, make it clear that you’re in charge. Kids need to learn how to take orders and how to do things they don’t want to do.
What are your golden rules of raising mentally strong children?
- Be aware of what you’re role modelling for your children. Your kids will learn far more from what you do rather than what you say.
- Take five minutes every day to build mental muscle. Make it a family priority to become mentally stronger. Pick an exercise or two to practice every day.
- Reflect on your progress and keep learning. Remember that mistakes are part of the learning process. But in order to learn from your mistakes you have to spend some time thinking about how to do better. Teach your kids that they can bounce back from failure, mistakes, and rejection by learning to do better.
Can you leave us with your final words and a mini pep talk for parents wanting to do the best they can for their children?
Helping kids build mental strength can sound overwhelming. But a few simple exercises can make a big difference.
It’s never too late to begin building mental muscles, either. So no matter how old you are, or how old your child is, you can still make a difference.
Thank you to Amy for her inspirational advice which I will certainly be taking on board in our family. What do you think of the insights she shared above? Do leave a comment and let us know.
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