Raising mentally strong kids who are equipped to take on real-world challenges requires parents to give up the unhealthy — yet popular — parenting practices that are robbing kids of mental strength.
Of course, helping kids build mental muscle isn’t easy — it requires parents to be mentally strong as well. Watching kids struggle, pushing them to face their fears, and holding them accountable for their mistakes is tough. But those are the types of experiences kids need to reach their greatest potential.
Parents who train their children’s brains for a life of meaning, happiness, and success, avoid these 13 things:
1. They Don’t Condone A Victim Mentality
Getting cut from the soccer team or failing a class doesn’t make your child a victim. Rejection, failure, and unfairness are part of life. Rather than allow kids to host pity parties or exaggerate their misfortune, mentally strong parents encourage their children to turn their struggles into strength. They help them identify ways in which they can take positive action, despite their circumstances.
2. They Don’t Parent Out Of Guilt
Guilty feelings can lead to a long list of unhealthy parenting strategies — like giving in to your child after you’ve said no or overindulging your child on the holidays. Mentally strong parents know that although guilt is uncomfortable, it’s tolerable. They refuse to let their guilty feelings get in the way of making wise choices.
3. They Don’t Make Their Child The Center Of The Universe
It can be tempting to make your life revolve around your child. But kids who think they’re the center of the universe grow up to be self-absorbed and entitled. Mentally strong parents teach their kids to focus on what they have to offer the world — rather than what they’re owed.
4. They Don’t Allow Fear To Dictate Their Choices
Keeping your child inside a protective bubble could spare you a lot of anxiety. But keeping kids too safe stunts their development. Mentally strong parents view themselves as guides, not protectors. They allow their kids to go out into the world and experience life, even when it’s scary to let go.
5. They Don’t Give Their Child Power Over Them
Kids who dictate what the family is going to eat for dinner, or those who orchestrate how to spend their weekends, have too much power. Becoming more like an equal — or even the boss — isn’t healthy for kids. Mentally strong parents empower kids to make appropriate choices while maintaining a clear hierarchy.
6. They Don’t Expect Perfection
High expectations are healthy, but expecting too much from kids will backfire. Mentally strong parents recognize that their kids are not going to excel at everything they do. Rather than push their kids to be better than everyone else, they focus on helping them become the best versions of themselves.
7. They Don’t Let Their Child Avoid Responsibility
You won’t catch a mentally strong parent saying things like, “I don’t want to burden my kids with chores. Kids should just be kids.” They expect children to pitch in and learn the skills they need to become responsible citizens. They proactively teach their kids to take responsibility for their choices and they assign them age-appropriate duties.
8. They Don’t Shield Their Child From Pain
It’s tough to watch kids struggle with hurt feelings or anxiety. But, kids need practice and first-hand experience tolerating discomfort. Mentally strong parents provide their kids with the support and help they need coping with pain so their kids can gain confidence in their ability to deal with whatever hardships life throws their way.
9. They Don’t Feel Responsible For Their Child’s Emotions
It can be tempting to cheer your kids up when they’re sad or calm them down when they’re angry. But, regulating your kids’ emotions for them prevents them from gaining social and emotional skills. Mentally strong parents teach their children how to be responsible for their own emotions so they don’t depend on others to do it for them.
10. They Don’t Prevent Their Child From Making Mistakes
Whether your child gets a few questions wrong on his math homework or he forgets to pack his cleats for soccer practice, mistakes can be life’s greatest teacher. Mentally strong parents let their kids mess up — and they allow them to face the natural consequences of their actions.
11. They Don’t Confuse Discipline With Punishment
Punishment is about making kids suffer for their wrongdoing. Discipline is about teaching them how to do better in the future. And while mentally strong parents do give out consequences, their ultimate goal is to teach kids to develop the self-discipline they’ll need to make better choices down the road.
12. They Don’t Take Shortcuts To Avoid Discomfort
Giving in when a child whines or doing your kids’ chores for them, is fast and easy. But, those shortcuts teach kids unhealthy habits. It takes mental strength to tolerate discomfort and avoid those tempting shortcuts.
13. They Don’t Lose Sight Of Their Values
In today’s fast-paced world it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day business of homework, chores, and sports practices. Those hectic schedules — combined with the pressure to look like parent of the year on social media —cause many people to lose sight of what’s really important in life. Mentally strong parents know their values and they ensure their family lives according to them.
The Importance of Psychology in Family Life
Monkey See Monkey Do
Children repeat what they see. That is called Modeling Behavior in the psychology field. This is why I have stated that knowing your past and your childhood is essential for evaluating yourself and your own patterns.
Often times when a child is in an unstable environment (whether a parent is an alcoholic, neglectful, abusive, or an addict in general), either that child will vow to never become their parents (and are successful due to their own genetic & characteristic predispositions) or they end up repeating the patterns they grew up with and essentially become the unstable parent they witnessed growing up and falling into the same patterns (again, due to genetic or characteristic predispositions).
Fun fact: Genes can be essentially “turned on” or “turned off” by your environment (hence why I keep saying environment is important!). For example, if anyone knows the neuroscientist James Fallon, you will know he is a psychopath. Before you get scared, he is a non-violent psychopath. I wrote an extensive research paper on why some psychopaths end up being violent versus non-violent, and to make a long story short, James Fallon ended up in a very loving home.
His parents wanted a child so bad and it took so many years for them to have him that by the time he arrived he was loved by every family member and supported. He has the genes of a psychopath, but his environment enabled the violent gene to stay turned off.
Think about your own life and the things you witnessed growing up. This goes back to thinking about your family of origin and the patterns you saw your parents in. For instance, if your father was an alcoholic that beat your mother and you, then you might go into the opposite direction and never have a drink in your life and never lay a hand on another, or you may end up an alcoholic yourself and find that violence is the way you have learned to solve issues because of what you saw growing up.
Let’s Talk About Feelings
Emotions are so important to acknowledge. Sadly, given our societal gender stereotypes, often times, parents fall into the trap of making their daughter express their emotions, engage in play with Barbie’s, where as they tell their son to “suck it up” and play with trucks. In my Child Development class, we addressed the gender stereotypes and that one of the reasons men may struggle with their inner world of emotions is because they were never taught to express and identify their emotions.
Parents, please, please, do talk to your children about emotions. Not just feelings of being afraid, being angry, being sad, and being happy, but the other emotions within those categories.
These are just some examples of getting into the many different emotions one can feel. Often times men, adult men (and some women), only know they are angry, sad, happy, or frustrated. Emotions are integral to emotional connection. Emotional connection is integral to a successful and happy marriage. If there is no emotional connection and the couple lives in two separate worlds and lives, that is not a happy marriage. Children watch, and children copy.
Empathy and Validation
Children need to be validated and empathized with. Often times, parents are invalidating without even being aware that they are invalidating. When a child comes up and says they feel sick, some parents may say, “It’s not that bad, you can go to school, don’t worry about it.” A more empathetic and validating response would be, “That must feel really bad. Being sick is never fun. Let me take your temperature to make sure you don’t have a fever and let’s see what we can do to help you feel more comfortable.”
Even in adulthood, if we have been around invalidating people growing up, we tend to fall into that trap of, “move on,” “get over it,” “it’s not that bad,” or “you’ll get over it, don’t worry” as a response to another person’s pain and distress.
When in relationships and marriage, empathy and validation are crucial to feeling emotionally safe with your partner. If you are not the most empathetic or validating person, that is something you can easily work on with your partner, especially if that is something they are strong in.
Parents Hidden Influence on Your Marriage
I have talked a lot about your childhood and your parents, and there is a reason for that. It’s because your parents are crucial in romantic relationships. We’ve talked about how they can influence you, and it’s important to be aware of.
For example, my mother is very independent, career oriented, and artsy. My father is very logical, intellectual and intelligent, and responsible. I have found that I myself follow in their footsteps in regard to wanting to focus on my career, valuing intellectuality and intelligence over other characteristics, and I am a highly responsible person that tends to clash with others who are more, “go with the flow” types.
I’ve also noticed that the way my parents interacted has impacted the way I interact with my husband. My mother used to leave the room if an argument got too much. I realize I do that in my own marriage because that is what I saw growing up. I’ve noticed that I expect romance from my husband because I saw my father be romantic with my mother (bringing her flowers home, writing her love letters, presents on Valentine’s Day, surprise dates and vacations, etc.).
Think about your own parents and how their behaviors might influence the way you are, act, and expect things to go in life. I’ll bet there are some things you’re going to think, “Crap, I’m my mom” or “crap, I’m my dad.” It’s not a bad thing, especially once it’s in your awareness. Once awareness occurs, improvements can be made, compromises can be agreed upon, and the correct changes can come to fruition.
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