We all want to raise resilient kids who aren’t afraid to try new things… but how do you do this?
Let’s face it, many of us have been afraid to try something at one point or another. Perhaps you were afraid of failing or just afraid, period.
Fear is a natural response when faced with a new challenge. It can make you feel powerless, stripping away your security and control.
If that fear is strong enough, though, it can cause kids to avoid trying new things or taking risks, which can, in turn, lead to missed opportunities. And unfortunately, this pattern can persist into adulthood.
I recently chatted with psychotherapist Sean Grover, who shared seven strategies parents can use to help kids face challenges and overcome obstacles with confidence.
Praise Their Effort
“There was a study done a number of years ago where they took two groups of elementary school students and they praised them a lot. ‘Oh, you’re so smart. You’re so intelligent. Wow, you’re brilliant,’ and so forth.
The other group, they shifted to what hard workers they were. ‘Well, you really apply yourself, you really tackle that problem so well.’
And what they found that the kids that were praised [for intelligence] were less likely to pursue something new because they didn’t want to give up that status. Whereas, the kids that were encouraged that they were hard-working and problem-solving, they were like, ‘bring it on, give me something else.’”
Model a Willingness to Try New Things
“What are you modeling for your children? It’s very hard to teach a child something through words. You’ve got to really model it. So, I always like parents to share their own struggles.
For example, they felt nervous talking in front of people or they were worried about something because they had made a big mistake. They felt like it was the end of the world.
The child begins to feel they have permission to have all these thoughts and feelings. They don’t have to maintain a sort of high status. They can also fluctuate. They can succeed in one thing and struggle in another and maybe even fail.
I remember my daughter called from college in the fall and she said ‘Papa, I think I just got the lowest grade of my life.’
We both burst out laughing and I was so happy that she was able to turn that into something that is just a moment in her life rather than seeing it as defining her as a person or defining her future.
She’s welcome to screw up just like any of us and we want to make sure, with our kids, that it’s okay to make mistakes.
Every child wants to succeed. But if you get too critical with them or you’re too punishing toward them, they’re going to withhold more and be more fearful of trying things.”
Give Them Tension Outlets
“The way I work with the children, when they come and sit across from me in my office, there are only two words I’m interested in, and that is ‘What’s missing?’
Usually, there’s something missing from their life and you get these symptoms like they’re afraid or they’re anxious or they’re worried or they’re overly aggressive.
Usually, something’s missing… So do they have tension outlets? Children, especially, have more feelings than words.
So clearly when you pressure them and they panic, they have to either lie or they feel bad that they don’t know what’s wrong with them.
So for a lot of kids who come in, I’ll have them take boxing lessons or dance classes a week or two. Suddenly, there’s so much less tension in their body, because tension in the body translates to physical tension, translates into emotional tension, translates into physical tension, and then physical tension without an outlet becomes biting nails, picking at yourself, pulling your hair. We went through a trend of kids cutting themselves as a sort of very primitive form of tension outlet.
So if I can get them moving and feeling more confident in their bodies, they’re going to be more adventurous.”
Give Them Self-Esteem Sources
“I want every child have at least two to three sources for self-esteem. That means something they feel really, really good about. They’re a great artist or they’re a great musician or they really own something that makes them unique that really give them a boost of confidence.”
Provide Consistent Leadership
“Parents have to be consistent. They have to provide consistent leadership. It’s like if you ever worked with a boss who is always changing his mind or inconsistent or moody. You feel demoralized. You don’t enjoy your work. It’s the same thing in parenting. Parenting is essentially a management job.
So how you manage your family is really going to give them a space to have more freedom, more access to taking chances. If it’s inconsistent or critical, a child’s naturally going to withdraw.”
Help Your Child Find Mentors
“Who do they look up to and want to be like? If a child can form a mentorship relationship with a coach, a teacher, an aunt and uncle, someone not directly in the orbit of the family, that really gives them a boost of confidence.”
Be on the Lookout for Under-the-Radar Learning Struggles
“One thing that is unfortunately overlooked too often is under-the-radar learning struggles.
They call them nonverbal learning differences, where kids have just enough dyslexia to slow them down or they have auditory problems or they have executive functioning problems, which is the ability to initiate follow through and complete a task.
They have all these cognitive problems that are delaying them in school and keeping them in a state of tension, undermining their confidence.
A lot of times we think something’s just an emotional issue, but if we were looking at where those problems pop up, are they only happening in school? Is it only happening in the particular class?
By doing this, we begin to get a roadmap toward something that’s going on cognitively with the child that is undermining their confidence.”
Final Thoughts on Raising Resilient Kids
“By going through those points, I want to look at the whole child. If I said I want you to be confident and fearless and go out there and knock them dead, but he doesn’t have the tension outlets, he doesn’t have models and mentors or something else we talked about, it’s very hard.”
So to recap, some of the things parents can do to encourage their kids to try new experiences are:
- Praise their effort
- Model a willingness to try new things
- Give them tension outlets
- Help them find self-esteem sources
- Provide consistent leadership
- Help them find mentors
- Be on the lookout for under-the-radar learning struggles
Are you trying these strategies with your own kids?
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