- Amy Morin is an author, psychotherapist, and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.
- She says parents working from home can use different exercises to help their kids build mental strength.
- Teaching your child to set boundaries and not give up after failing is key to their emotional development.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The number one comment I hear from readers of my adult books on mental strength is, “I wish I would have learned these things sooner.” So I decided to write a mental strength book for kids.
And while my adult books focus on what not to do, the kids’ book focuses on what to do. If kids learn these skills now, they won’t grow up to develop the unhealthy habits that rob adults of mental strength.
So here are the 13 things strong kids do and the exercises that can teach them to think big, feel good, and act brave.
1. They stop feeling sorry for themselves
It’s healthy for kids to feel sad. But what’s not healthy is allowing that sadness to turn into self-pity. When kids feel sorry for themselves, they insist their problems are too big to address and they become helpless and hopeless.
Exercise: Work with your child to create a list of activities they enjoy doing when they feel happy, like playing games or singing. Those are their “mood boosters.” When they start to feel sorry for themselves, encourage them to pick an activity from their mood boosters list to help them feel better.
2. They empower themselves
Whether kids are experiencing friendship drama or they’re struggling with homework they don’t understand, it’s essential for them to take responsibility for their choices.
Exercise: When your child blames other people for making them angry or ruining their day, point out how to change their language. Empower them to take responsibility by saying, “I’m angry,” rather than, “You make me mad.”
3. They adapt to change
From moving onto a new grade to trying a different sport, change is tough. Kids need confidence that they can adapt to those changes.
Exercise: Help your child label their feelings. Simply putting a name to an emotion – like sadness or anxiety – can take a lot of the sting out of them.
4. They focus on things they have control over
Kids can easily get caught up in worrying about things they have no control over – like who their teacher will be next year or whether their team will win the championship game. But worrying about things they can’t control drains them of the mental strength they need to be their best.
Exercise: When your child worries about something beyond their control, help them change the channel in their brain. Putting together a puzzle, coloring a picture, or playing a game can distract their brains and help them get refocused on things they can control.
5. They know when to say no
While you might think your kids say no to too often already – like when given opportunities to earn money or spend time with the family – it’s important for them to be able to say no to unhealthy things that come their way.
Exercise: Teach your child how to set boundaries by saying no to things they don’t want in their lives. Whether they decline a favor for a friend or they say no to someone who asks them to cheat, teach them to show self-respect by delivering a direct no.
6. They take calculated risks
While a child might be quick to take a physical risk (like a bike stunt), they might be slow to take a social risk (like making a new friend). It’s important for them to learn to assess risk and face healthy fears.
Exercise: Teach kids that their brain’s anxiety alarm is likely a bit faulty – everyone’s is. So while their brains and their bodies might react to giving a speech as if it’s a life or death situation, assure them that it’s OK to face healthy fears – even when their anxiety alarm bells are ringing.
7. They create their future
Kids won’t ever reach their greatest potential if they’re completely passive about their lives or overly critical of themselves. It’s important for them to get interested – and excited – about the type of future they can create for themselves.
Exercise: When your child says something like, “I’ll never be good at math,” ask them what they’d say to a friend who said that about themselves. They’d likely offer some kind words. Teach them to talk to themselves the same way they’d talk to a good friend.
8. They own their mistakes
It’s tempting for kids to hide their mistakes. After all, they don’t want to get in trouble. But they can’t learn from their mistakes unless they own up to them.
Exercise: When your kids make a mistake, help them set themselves up for success next time. If they forget to bring their homework to school, encourage them to start packing their bag the night before. Or, if they forget to do their chores, create a chart to remind them what to do.
9. They celebrate other people’s success
Feeling jealous and resentful of kids who get better grades or score more points in the games will only hold your child back in life. On the other hand, learning how to celebrate other people’s success will serve them well.
Exercise: Teach your child to “act like the person they want to become.” That doesn’t mean acting fake; instead, it’s about encouraging your child to act the way they want to feel. Acting confident leads to feelings of confidence.
10. They fail and try again
Kids who fear failure avoid new things or give up as soon as they experience a setback. They need to know that although failing feels bad, it can also be an important stepping stone to success.
Exercise: Talk about famous failures. When kids learn that successful scientists, inventors, and artists failed many times before succeeding, they see how to learn from failure.
11. They balance social time with alone time
It’s important for kids to feel comfortable socializing with others as well as to be able to do activities independently. Healthy independence helps kids feel more comfortable in their own skin.
Exercise: Encourage your child to do something fun all by themselves. With practice and support, they can learn that alone time doesn’t have to be boring and lonely.
12. They are thankful for what they have
Entitled kids grow up to be narcissistic adults. Grateful kids, however, grow up to become appreciative, happy adults.
Exercise: When your child receives a gift, talk about what it’s like for them to know that someone spent time picking that give out for them. Your conversation can help your child experience gratitude about the people who care about them – not just the material possessions they receive.
13. They persist
When faced with obstacles, kids are often quick to abandon their goals. Persistence, however, is the key to true success.
Exercise: Have your child write an encouraging, kind letter to themselves. Their letter might remind them why they should keep going when they’re struggling. When they’re tempted to quit, encourage them to read that letter to themselves. Hearing their own words cheer them can give them the strength they need to push through tough times.