Helping Kids Build Mental Strength in the Digital Age
By Jamie Siggard
Mental strength can be defined as the ability to make proactive choices, which requires the balancing of emotions and rational thought, enabling a person to be “mindful”, to choose rather just react. Mental strength helps to increase resilience, lessen stress and maintain positivity. Building mental strength is similar to building physical strength; it needs to be “exercised” (Jones, Hanton, Connaughton, 2007). This is not always easy, especially when there are so many other things vying for our attention, such as our phones, our computers, our tablets and our next streaming binge on Netflix.
Media can be a great source of entertainment and networking, but we should be wise about the time and attention we give to it. In a recent interview with an elementary school counselor, Annette Houston, MSC, suggested that “the negative effects [of media] are huge”. From her experience working closely with children, she says that “the negative effects of social media cause depression and anxiety-like you’ve not ever seen before.” To combat the negative effects of media, we must be intentional and repetitive about helping kids build mental strength!
Here are 5 Great Ways to Help Kids Build Mental Strength
- Give them chores–daily if possible! Give your child consistent household chores. I get it. Often times it’s easier to just load the dishwasher on your own, rather than listen to your child grumble and drag their feet. Look at the big picture though. Houston says, “Kids are being taken care of but they’re not … contributing members of the community (their family). It’s that contributing to the family business or family growth, that [helps foster] self-esteem in kids.” This isn’t about just getting the job done, it’s about helping your child grow in character and strength. It’s giving them the fulfillment that comes from contributing.
- Connect with them every single day. Again, in our digital age, we often spend more time with our phones than we do with those around us. Be intentional about setting aside devices so you can make meaningful connections with your child. Go for a walk around the block together. Build a spaceship with legos. Tell riddles to one another. Make family dinner a priority. It doesn’t have to be a big production, but you must connect with your child, eyes to eyes every day. Your kids need you!
- Let your child make mistakes. Houston suggested that “we’re not teaching our kids young, how to solve their own problems.” Her concern was that “we’re just mowing down the problems in front of them hoping they’ll succeed rather than letting them face their own problems.” She emphasized the importance of “Allowing kids to make mistakes [and] solve problems” which “fosters self-confidence.” It is difficult to see our kids struggle, but allowing them to make mistakes and struggle will help foster self-confidence that will serve them even when they’re grown! Walk with them and love them through their mistakes and struggles, but don’t deprive them of these important opportunities for growth.
- Help your child develop positive self-talk. Houston, figuratively speaking said that “most people these days have a little monster on their shoulder telling them [they’re not good enough].” As a parent, it’s important to help your child develop positive self-talk. When the monster tells your child they’re not good enough because of a mistake they made, have them respond to the monster by saying “I do make mistakes sometimes, but I’m doing my best and learning every day.” When the monster says they’re not pretty enough, smart enough, or capable of succeeding, have them question the monster. With practice, the monster won’t have as much authority over their thoughts and actions.
- Create a Household Media Guideline. As a family, come up with a plan for how and when you’ll use media. Take inventory of your household media usage and move forward with a stronger resolve to use media and technology for good, and within reason. Revisit the plan often to see how the guidelines are working for each member of your family. Be sure to enforce the guidelines as well!
Parents, be in the game. Be proactive in helping your kids become mentally strong. With the ease of today’s conveniences, you must be intentional about helping your kids build mental strength. Check out the book 30 Days to a Stronger Child, to keep the conversation going and help foster strength in all areas of your child’s life.
Jamie Siggard recently graduated with her degree in Marriage and Family Studies from Brigham Young University-Idaho. She currently lives in the greater Seattle area and works as a nanny. Seeking adventure, truth, and strong relationships are her recipe for happiness, and she hopes to help others find similar joy through her writing.
Annette Houston, MSC, is an elementary school counselor in Ogden, Utah. She is a mother of 2 and grandmother to 1. She finds joy in helping students and parents meet their challenges with courage and confidence.
Jones, G.; Hanton, S.; Connaughton, D. (2007). “A framework of mental toughness in the world’s best performers”. Sport Psychologist. 21 (2): 243–264.