There are various strategies and educational tools which can help children develop and maintain mental health such as the substitution of negative thoughts for realistic thoughts, teaching to manage/channel their emotions and the learning of productive behavior even when faced with adversity. The development of mental strength comes about with the building of resilience, self esteem, true confidence, and self efficacy. The best way to help children develop their mental strength is by integrating the following:
ALLOW CHILDREN TO MAKE MISTAKES… Making mistakes is part of life. It is best to teach our kids mistakes are only mistakes when repeated otherwise they are lessons one goes through in order to develop character and mental strength, as such they should not be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed about them. Allowing children to make their own mistakes gives them the opportunity to absorb all the valuable lessons life has in store to help with the development of their soul and the finding of their own path. As parents we should encourage our children to reflect on their mistakes only to get what they have learned out of them, afterwards we should be supportive and help our kids when needed to give it another try. In addition parents should talk to their children on strategies to avoid committing the same mistakes while still allowing (whenever is safe to do so) natural consequences to take place.
TEACHING SKILLS TO CORRECT BAD BEHAVIOR… Whenever children behave “badly” lies an excellent opportunity to teach them impulse control, self discipline and problem solving skills. Teaching our kids these skills helps them learn to behave productively as well as learning to deal with difficult circumstances and set backs.
ALLOW CHILDREN TO FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE… While it may be tempting to rescue children when dealing with uncomfortable feelings, rescuing them from all situations which may cause anxiety is actually more harming to children as they may learn to feel incapable of dealing with the situation, thinking or feeling without someone else giving them permission to do so. Children whose parents are rescuers tend to either grow into spoil adults who when confronted with difficult situations avoid any responsibility for their own actions or who tend to entirely shy away from life. Sometimes it is best to let children feel frustrated, bored or angry, giving them the opportunity to first learn to solve their problem independently before attempting to help them.
HELPING CHIDREN COPE WITH FEAR… If we teach our children to avoid scary things they will never gain confidence on their ability to cope with stress. In addition it is important to remember each child is different and so each child will have his/her own fears. Be there to guide and support, helping them gain confidence in their own skills to confront their own fears.
DON’T OVER EXPOSE THEM TO NEGATIVE THINKING/BEHAVIOR… Negative thinking/behavior is at times a natural reaction to all the intricacies which one faces in life, however this is not to equate to parents or others who are permanently unhappy. Teaching children compassion towards people who are mostly sad is as important as teaching them to walk away or to stand up (depending on the situation) when faced with angry negative people. As parents we can not over shelter our children without causing them harm but it is also important to protect them from negative situations, negative thinking, or negative behavior which may hinder their soul. Negative thinking/behavior can be very harmful for kids, hence it is very important to not over expose our children to such traits/situations. It is also hard and very saddening for any child to feel mentally strong when the child is being humiliated or has parents who are always expecting the worst from him. Children tend to internalize adult’s frustrations, therefore the best way to compensate for any negativity which may surround our children is to let them know they are loved even when they are “acting” difficult; just as important is to let them know when we are proud of them; without exaggerating their accomplishments.
DO NOT COVER UP THEIR MISTAKES… Gaining mental strength involves accepting mental responsibility; in order to teach this to our kids we need to allow them to explain their own actions and to face the consequences. Failure to do this will only teach our children to make excuses for their own miss-behavior or to always blame others for any pain life may bring. Teaching them to face up when needed yet being there to catch them afterwards is one of the greatest gifts we as parents can give our children.
TEACH EMOTIONAL MANAGEMENT SKILLS… In order to build the mental fortitude of our children we need to teach them to be aware of their emotions. It is not a matter of teaching them to supress their feelings, rather is about teaching them how to experience and channel those feelings in ways which are healthy and productive. The best way to teach our children emotional management skills is to be a model of mental strength. I am not saying go hide in a room whenever you feel frustrated, envious, angry or sad; all of these are natural emotions. It is important for our children to know these emotions are just as real and natural as joy, love, ecstasy and happiness are. To fail to do this is to handicap our children’s range of feelings; building unrealistic expectations of themselves, of us as parents and of the world which surrounds them. The trick lies in trying to be the best role model one can be when teaching children how to experience negative emotions. When it comes to emotions not only do we have to tell our children what to do, we have to show them; children will listen to what you have to say yet they will emulate not what you say but what you do!
I recommend talking to your child about your own emotions in a way that is meaningful, realistic and not burdening/violating to the child (children are not your therapist!). Talk to them and let them see how you handle a situation which may be uncomfortable to you. Example: If you are feeling envious, sad or angry just say so, but do it in a way that is not emotionally charged. This means YOU as a parent first have to collect yourself, take a deep breath and realize YOU and only YOU are the biggest lesson in your child’s life. Your child will one day be an adult and YOU will be his/her biggest challenge to overcome (the negative events). If the positive lessons (by actions more than words) outweigh the negative, rest assure that no matter how hard life gets, no matter how many arguments/fights there may be, your child will always find room for you in his heart.
Both parents are the most important role models in a child’s life, however it has been proven that mothers/mother figures are the number one role model in a child’s life (except in cases where the child is raise only by a single dad).
If you are a woman it is important to remember how your children grow to treat others will be a reflection of you…keep in mind then to always be real for that is the biggest lesson we have to teach our kids. If we choose to play to the crowd, so will our children. As mothers we have a huge saying on our children’s lives and the adults they will become, let’s make sure to try to do our best. I am not saying fathers should stay on side lines and just watch; absolutely NOT. I am not trying to take their responsibility away, all I am trying to make clear is that whenever a mother/mother figure is present in a child’s life she is by nature the emotional leader. What she permits or allows, how she behaves towards herself and others will have a greater impact than anybody else.
The emotional leading role falls strongly on us women. Who says we are the weaker sex? 😉 ……If we as women let others disrespect us, so will our children. If we are cruel to others most likely our children will emulate that.
It is also damaging when a woman chooses to push the children’s father away and to take on all the responsibility of raising the kids. To push fathers to the side lines is to handicap our own kids’ emotional range and to rob them of the all the experiences and lessons only fathers can teach. A mother’s role is to be maternal, a father’s role is to be paternal; each parent has its own role to play whether together or not. Each role has its own lessons and responsibilities, to cut one out by choice is to disrupt and violate the beautiful dance life has created for our children to learn.
As parents we don’t have to be perfect. We go around comparing ourselves to false ideas of what a good parent is, forgetting most people only show us their public face. It is time to wake up as parents and teach our children that imperfection is what makes us unique. We are all different, and no one has it together!. Let’s teach our children to try their best while being their real selves, only then will there be some major changes in our society!