Growth Mindset: Helping our children to develop a growth mindset means teaching them to focus on progress over perfection and on the process rather than the outcome. When we focus on those singular goals (i.e., getting an A, making the team, winning the contest), children are left with a win/lose mindset which can be limiting. Helping them to see the mini successes along the way gives them the ability to focus on personal growth. The idea is to have them notice the effort they put into the schoolwork, the perseverance they showed in practicing each day for the team tryout, and the way they learned from mistakes they made along the way in preparing for the contest. After all, the skills of consistent effort, perseverance, and learning from mistakes will get them a lot further in many areas of life than just achieving that A will.
Grit: Speaking of learning from mistakes and perseverance, grit is a fantastic skill to encourage in our children. Many kids are used to instant results and gratification and when challenges arise, it can cause discouragement or defeat. Instead, encouraging our children to see a challenge as an opportunity for growth is a way to build their grit. Research tells us that individuals who develop the trait of grit can achieve far more than their naturally talented counterparts. Working with kids to set goals and to work toward them, persisting when challenges arise, noticing small gains and progress, and celebrating their accomplishments will help them learn to persevere no matter the circumstance. They may even start to view roadblocks as a challenge to overcome rather than a dead end.
Emotional regulation: It sounds simple but identifying and understanding emotions is not always intuitive and is certainly not routinely taught to children. However, just as we teach children to recognize their body cues for hunger, thirst, and illness, we should teach them to learn and recognize their emotional cues and how to respond to them. Working with children to develop a healthy emotional vocabulary and to normalize talking about feelings in the moment is essential; how can we work on something we have no words for or do not understand or recognize? Using emotional vocabulary in everyday conversations, sharing your experiences with your kids, and modeling healthy ways to cope with those feelings can be great ways to teach your children. Starting with simple coping skills such as taking a break by oneself, talking to a trusted adult or friend, and taking some calming breaths helps children to slowly learn to control and manage even the biggest of feelings.
Band-aids vs Vitamins: As children learn skills to manage their feelings, we want them to have strategies on hand for when a tricky situation arises and they need to calm down (i.e., using a band-aid); however, we also want them to develop a daily practice to prevent their feelings from escalating so quickly (i.e., using daily vitamins). A Cognitive Behavioral approach indicates that two steps are necessary for managing feelings: relaxing our nervous system with relaxation and redirecting our thoughts. We can teach children these simple steps as well by introducing relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and other forms of movement/exercise. In addition, we can teach children how to redirect their thoughts with “cool thoughts” which is to focus on what is true and positive (Although I didn’t win the game I had fun playing with my friends, If I finish this homework I can play my video game for 30 minutes, I’m not going to let this bother me). We want to encourage kids to practice these life skills daily which helps to minimize their reactions when things do go astray and also increases the likelihood that they will be able to use the strategies in the heat of the moment! Encouraging a daily gratitude practice is also a great antidote to negative thoughts, anxiety, sadness, and anger.
Self-Compassion: Overall, it is important that to build resilience in children we teach them that prioritizing their mental health is essential. It is not selfish to take care of your feelings, in fact we cannot truly help others, be productive workers, or supportive partners in relationships unless our own mental health is taken care of. These simple strategies will lay the groundwork for kids ensure that they have taken care of their feelings each day and are armed with strategies to manage whatever comes their way. Talking with our children about being kind, patient, and compassionate with themselves is essential to maintain self-esteem and confidence.