All kids have the ability to develop mental muscle. We just have to teach them how to exercise their minds.
In my 15 years as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen how many of today’s common parenting habits are robbing kids of mental strength. Giving up those unhealthy habits takes strength on the part of the parents, but doing so gives kids opportunities to grow stronger and become better.
Based on my book 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, here are 13 things to avoid if you want to raise a mentally strong child who is prepared to tackle life’s toughest challenges:
1. Condone a victim mentality.
Failing a math test or getting cut from the team doesn’t make a child a victim. Disappointment, failure and rejection are a part of life.
No matter how unjust or tough the circumstance, refuse to attend your kids’ pity parties. Teach them the importance of taking positive action rather than indulging in self-pity.
2. Parent out of guilt.
Backing down after you’ve said no or giving in because your child cries sends an unhealthy message to your kids that you’ll allow them to guilt you. They also learn that they have the power to manipulate you by preying on your emotions.
All good parents feel guilty sometimes. But it’s important to prevent those guilty feelings from impairing your parenting judgment. Hold firm in your choices, even when it causes you to wrestle with some guilt.
3. Make your kids the center of the universe.
While it’s important to make kids your top priority, making kids the center of the universe instills self-importance. And self-absorbed, entitled adults aren’t likely to lead rich and fulfilling lives.
Teach your kids that they’re important—but not the most important person in the world. They’ll grow up to become empathetic people who recognize the gifts they have to offer others.
4. Allow fear to dictate your choices.
Protecting your kids at all costs will spare you a lot of anxiety. But your kids will grow to believe they’re fragile.
If you want to raise brave kids, be a role model who encourages facing fears. Be a guide, but don’t become overprotective. Let your kids go out and experience the world firsthand.
5. Give your kids power over you.
Asking questions like, “Do you want water or ice water?” empowers kids. But asking whether the whole family should move across the country gives them too much power. Treating kids like an equal—or the boss—harms their development.
Show your kids that you value their opinions. But make it clear that you’re the leader. Establish a family hierarchy that gives your kids opportunities to practice taking orders and doing things they don’t want to do.
6. Expect perfection.
Kids will strive to meet your expectations as long as those expectations are reasonable. If you expect perfection, they’ll decide there’s no use in trying.
Teach your kids they don’t need to be the best at everything they do. Help them become a little better today than they were yesterday.
7. Let your kids avoid responsibility.
Countless studies show the importance of getting kids involved in household tasks. Yet, only 28 percent of children do chores.
If you want to raise kids who become responsible adults, give them plenty of responsibility. Let them pack their own lunches, assign daily chores, and expect them to take care of their own equipment for hobbies like sports or music.
8. Shield your kids from pain.
It can be tempting to shield kids from hurt feelings and hard times. But hardship is a part of life.
Kids need firsthand experience dealing with uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anxiety and embarrassment. With your support, they can gain confidence in themselves and trust that they can handle whatever difficulties life throws their way.
9. Feel responsible for your kids’ emotions.
Cheering your kids up when they’re sad, entertaining them when they’re bored and calming them down when they’re upset means you take responsibility for their feelings.
Teach your kids how to manage their moods on their own. They’ll grow up to become independent adults who don’t need other people to regulate their emotions for them.
10. Prevent your kids from making mistakes.
Whether you correct your kids’ homework or you double check their backpacks to make sure they haven’t forgotten something, preventing mistakes won’t do your kids any favors. Natural consequences are some of life’s greatest teachers.
Let them fail sometimes just so you can support them in bouncing back. Teach them that their mistakes are opportunities to grow wiser and become stronger.
11. Confuse discipline with punishment.
Punishment is meant to inflict suffering. Discipline, on the other hand, is about teaching kids to do better.
Don’t raise kids who fear “getting in trouble.” Use consequences that teach self-discipline so they’ll strive to make better choices.
12. Take shortcuts to avoid discomfort.
Although giving in when your child whines or doing your kids’ chores for them makes life easier right now, those shortcuts will backfire in the end.
Implement delayed gratification and show your children you’re strong enough to stay the course. You’ll teach them they’re strong enough to reach their long-term goals despite the temptations to take the easy way out.
13. Lose sight of your values.
Would you rather the teacher said your child was the smartest or the kindest kid in the class? It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day chaos that you lose sight of what you value most.
Make sure your priorities accurately reflect your values. Instilling your values in your kids gives them the strength they need to live meaningful lives.
It’s important to build strong mental muscles as a family. Mentally strong kids have mentally strong parents. So be a good role model and exercise your mental muscles regularly. Establish healthy habits, like practicing mindfulness and gratitude. And give up the unhealthy habits that are holding you back. As a family, challenge one another to grow stronger and become better.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated.
Photo by safwansarimin/Twenty20