In the last week, I’ve caught myself telling my son to “toughen up” multiple times. I was frustrated. I was tired of hearing him get offended by his little sister. He needs to develop thicker skin. But telling him to toughen up felt like I was using curse words. Something about the current culture of parenting has made it seem like saying those words to a child is harmful. But I don’t want my son growing up easily offended or unable to laugh at himself.
I want to know how to toughen up my son, but just saying it feels like we’re telling our kids to outgrow their immaturity without equipping them to do it. According to licensed professional counselor Emily Kircher-Morris, children who are told to “toughen up” are left feeling dumb or weak. Now that I know that, I know there are 3 ways I could have handled the situation with my son differently. You can use them too to help your child get thicker skin.
Just saying it feels like we’re telling our kids to outgrow their immaturity without equipping them to do it.
1. I should have acknowledged his frustration.
I don’t want to belittle my son or make him feel like I don’t care. If I could go back in time, I would have acknowledged his frustration to help him know that I see him. It wouldn’t have to be a whole “mom-counseling” session, but just a quick mention that I notice he’s a little extra irritated. This simple move opens the door to more dialog if he wants to try to explain.
2. I should have challenged him.
The whole point in wanting to know how to toughen up my son is to challenge him to think a little higher, right? The next thing I would have done is to point out a couple of ways to actually handle his frustrations. He needs to get pickier about what he gets offended over and also needs to learn how to laugh at himself. Both of those things come with time, not a quick-fix mantra to “toughen up.”
3. I should have stayed out of it.
If I could do a full rewind, I would have done absolutely nothing. He needs to learn how to have these arguments without me getting involved every time. Through adversity, he can learn how to be more resilient. Afterward, I’d encourage him to reflect so that in the future, he can choose if an argument is worth all the emotional energy.
What characteristic are you really hoping to form in your son when you tell him to toughen up?