I’ve never been more proud of my son than the day he ran a race in tears. He was gung-ho about doing the kid-version of our local marathon until it came time to approach the starting line. It was just a lap around a track, but he was terrified. He wanted to back out and while I didn’t want to force him, I knew he would regret quitting.
He held back tears as I pep-talked him and when the race started, I ran alongside for 20 yards or so. I watched as he finished the rest himself, crying the entire way. At the finish line, I hugged him and cried with him, and told him how strong he was. It was easy to see his strength that day, but how do you know if you’ve got a mentally tough kid? There are 13 habits that are evidence of this strength. Here are just 5 of them along with how to make your child mentally strong.
These habits all come from psychotherapist Amy Morin’s book 13 Things Strong Kids Do, which my young runner is reading right now. He is super excited that he gets to write in a book and not get in trouble!
1. They stop feeling sorry for themselves.
Not making the team, not getting invited to a birthday party, getting a bad grade (after actually studying this time)—it’s all part of childhood. When these disappointments happen, sad thoughts are healthy, but self-pity thoughts lead to exaggeration and hopelessness. If a pet dies, a sad thought would be, “I’m going to miss Rex. It’s not going to be the same without him.” A self-pity thought would be, “He was my dog and no one else is going to miss him as much as I do.”
Here’s how to make your child mentally strong if he tends to feel sorry for himself. Help him notice when his thoughts are too negative to be true and replace them with what is true, or as Morin says, “Replace blue thoughts with true thoughts.” “Yes, you had a special relationship with Rex, but we will all miss him because he was part of our family.”
2. They empower themselves.
Mentally strong kids don’t give anyone else power over their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. How many times growing up did you let a snide comment about your outfit change the way you felt about it and yourself? That’s giving away your power.
Help your kids keep their power by coming up with a catchphrase they can use whenever they need to drown out the negative thoughts. “I’ve got this! All I can do is my best! I’m good!” are all easy to remember. And encourage them to think of reasons why the other person may have said what he or she did. Sometimes people criticize others to make themselves feel better.
3. They adapt to change.
Kids often don’t get a say in how their lives change. They have to go to a new school, they find out mom and dad are divorcing, or a friend moves away. How they respond to the change says a lot about their mental strength. When my friend told her daughter she had to share a room with her sister because a new baby was on the way, her daughter lashed out in anger. It wasn’t going to be an easy change.
One idea for how to make your children mentally strong is to help them name the emotion they are feeling when change happens—fear, jealousy, helplessness. My friend’s daughter wasn’t actually angry. She was jealous that the new baby was going to get Mom’s attention and hurt that she was losing her personal space. Once they can name what the change is making them feel, kids can start to think of a better way to adapt.
A child with persistence will keep working toward a goal, even when the results aren’t immediate. Persistent kids will mow lawn after lawn to save up for that bike, keep practicing piano even when they continually play the same wrong note, and keep asking the teacher for a time to meet to get extra help with a lesson that’s not making sense.
A child with persistence will keep working toward a goal, even when the results aren’t immediate.
The opposite is a child who is impatient, apathetic, and filled with excuses. To build persistence, have your child come up with a measurable goal and track their progress. iMOM’s Habit Tracker printable is just one of the several free goal-setting tools you can find in our Goals + Learning printables section. He can even write himself a letter reminding himself that he can do hard things.
5. They create their future.
No, a 12-year-old doesn’t have to have the next decade mapped out, but kids can begin to create a brighter future for themselves with just a few simple habits. Strong kids don’t let others define them. They set goals, challenge themselves, explore, and put in effort.
A great way to build up this quality is for your child to make an “if…then” plan. It can help him or her feel better about moving forward. A classic “if…then” plan is the college application process. “If I don’t get into this school, then I’ll apply for that one.” When your child has a good plan in place, it’s easier to be brave and take a step forward.
Want more ideas for how to make your child mentally strong? The other eight things Amy Morin says strong kids do are: They focus on things they have control over. They know when to say no. They take calculated risks. They celebrate other people’s successes. They own their mistakes. They fail and try again. They balance social time with alone time. They are thankful for what they have.
In your experience, which of these is the most important?