How can we make sure our kids will have the resilience to deal with whatever is thrown at them? Sadly, there are no guarantees, and all we can do is prepare them as best we can.
Sometimes that means making tough choices – and putting our own mental strength to the test as we see them struggle.
To give our children the best chance of finding happiness and success, psychotherapist Amy Morin, in her brilliant new book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, says we need to take heed of these rules:
1Don’t encourage a ‘victim’ mentality
At some stage, our kids will inevitably face rejection, failure and unfairness. It’s easy to sympathise and offer pity, but mentally-strong parents encourage their kids to counteract whatever has happened with positive action. Been dropped from the athletics squad? The last thing they should do is give up. A mentally-strong parent encourages them to train harder and regain their place.
2Don’t do ‘guilty’ parenting
It’s easy to feel guilty when it comes to our kids – maybe we work long hours or can’t afford to give them something they really want. So it’s even easier to indulge in bad habits, such as giving in after we’ve said no or going overboard on expensive Christmas gifts. Mentally-strong parents don’t do this. They cope with the guilt because they know it’s more important to make wise decisions.
3Your child shouldn’t be the centre of the universe
If your world revolves around your child, they’ll grow up thinking everyone ‘owes’ them. They’ll become self-absorbed and entitled – qualities that won’t help them as they journey through life. Teach them to focus on what they can offer, instead of what they can gain.
4Don’t let choices be dictated by fear
Letting your kids into the world is scary, and it’s tempting to metaphorically wrap them up in cotton wool. It’s hard to let go, but strong parents are guides, not protectors. We have to allow our children to experience life in all its glory – however difficult that might be sometimes.
5Your child shouldn’t have power over you
Some parents let their kids make all the decisions – what to eat, what to do, where to go. There’s nothing wrong with seeking their opinion or giving them a say, but ultimately they’re not in charge – you are. They need to understand this.
6Don’t expect perfection
We all want our kids to do well, but demanding too much is detrimental to their development. Each child has their own strengths, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to be the best at everything. Mentally-strong parents know this and help their kids achieve their potential by focusing on their own ‘best’.
7Don’t let them avoid responsibility
Even young children can play an active part in ensuring family life runs smoothly – and most will actually enjoy it. Let your kids be part of day-to-day life – give them appropriate chores to do and make sure they take responsibility for completing them, or ensure relevant consequences if they don’t.
8Don’t shield them from pain
Watching our kids when they’re upset or anxious is one of the hardest things for a parent – but this is how they learn to deal with life’s setbacks. Your job is to offer support and help them cope, not to stop it happening. In the long run, they will be more resilient and confident.
9You’re not responsible for their emotions
Of course you don’t want your child to feel sad or angry, but it’s not up to you to change their mood. Learning to deal with our own feelings is an important part of growing up – it helps us develop valuable social skills. Mentally-strong parents teach their kids this – they don’t do it for them.
10Let them make mistakes
Arguably one of the most difficult things to do. Are you in the habit of checking your child’s schoolbag each morning to be sure they’ve remembered their packed lunch? Or when they get up late and miss the bus, despite your reminders, do you end up driving them to wherever they’re going? Mentally-strong parents understand the value of allowing mistakes to happen so their kids learn there are consequences.
11Discipline is not the same as punishment
Discipline is about teaching kids to adhere to a code of behaviour in future, while punishment inflicts suffering for past actions. Although there sometimes need to be consequences, it’s more important to teach kids how to make better choices next time.
12Don’t take shortcuts to avoid discomfort
You’ve asked your child to do something – empty the dishwasher, for example. They’re slow, they’re complaining, they’re putting everything in the wrong places. The temptation to take over is irresistible. Don’t do it! It sends the wrong message about accepting responsibility.
13Don’t lose sight of your values
We’re all under pressure – trying to earn a living, run a home, look after the kids and generally let the world see we’re winning at life. It’s all too easy to forget what’s important. Mentally-strong parents keep sight of their values and make sure their family understand them, even if things are a bit blurred at times.