There is one area of weakness that Aristotle has constantly demonstrated to me that I have been concerned about. Whenever I present him with a challenge, he often declines to pick up the gauntlet. I have been concerned that his fear of failure is crippling his willingness to give things a go and it’s having a negative impact on his growth and development. So I decided to go back and review Chapter 6 of Ellen Galinsky’s Mind in the Making on helping children learn to “Take on Challenges”.
What Does it Mean to “Take on Challenges”?
In her book, Galinsky defines “taking on challenges” as “being proactive rather than reactive when difficulties arise”. It is, in part, about managing stress and developing resilience. In a nutshell, it is getting back on the horse after falling off.
How to Encourage Children to Take on Challenges
1. Manage your own stress
Being able to taken on challenges requires the ability to handle stress. Since parental stress spills over to children and affects them, the first step is to handle our own stress. This needs to be distinguished from covering up our stress. The aim of this is not to hide your stress from your child but to be a living example to your child how stress can be managed.
- Make sure your child knows that your stress is not because of something your child did
- Tell them what you are going to do to feel better – e.g. “I need some time out”, “I’ll feel better after some exercise”, etc.
- Conclude the story so they can learn through your experiences how to handle the tough times
2. Turn to others who can help you manage your own stress
If you are unable to cope with your own stress, make sure you seek out others who can help. It may be friends and family members that you turn to, or professional help that you seek.
3. Take time for yourself
As a parent, taking some time to yourself can feel selfish, but having some “me time” can be the positive boost you need to keep your best foot forward. Let’s face it, it’s hard to be a good parent when you’re tired and stressed out so you’re not doing anyone any favours by martyring yourself and refusing personal time.
4. Don’t shield your child from everyday stresses
Children need to learn how to deal with stress through experience so it is important not to overprotect them. This doesn’t mean you should throw them into the deep end, however, but it does mean you should help them figure out how to cope.
5. Maintain a warm, caring and trusting relationship with your child because it makes you a stress-buster for your child
Children with warm, caring relationships with their parents generally feel more safe and secure. This helps them to cope with difficult situations more easily because they find strength in the trust that they have in their parents.
Stress is when challenge overwhelms your capacity to manage it. With a trusting relationship with a parent who’s been there for you and who’s accessible, you’re not overwhelmed.
6. Try to keep your “alarm button” on low
Just as our children feed off our stress, they also feed off our reactions to the things that they do. There are two characteristics parents need to be aware of:
- Alarmists – parents who see danger everywhere and are constantly warning their children “you’re going to hurt yourself!” or “your blocks are going to topple!”
- Intrusive – parents who overprotect their children by interfering with what their children area doing. They do not give their children the opportunity to explore.
7. Understand your child’s temperament – observe what your child does to calm down and build on his strengths
Your child’s temperament affects:
- how he reacts to a new experience
- how he regulates his response to that new experience
Watch what your child does that helps him to cope best with challenging situations and encourage him to apply that tactic to other challenging situations. Talk to your child and help him to identify what helps him when he is upset. I find that Aristotle likes to sit in a room by himself of a while before rejoining the family when he is upset about something he can do nothing about. Hercules, on the other hand, recovers quickly if you can distract him without appearing like you are trying to distract him. Different children will find that different methods work or do not work for them. Your task as parent is to help your child identify the ones that work best for her.
8. Fit your expectations to the nature of your child
Rather than focussing on what your child can’t do (the weaknesses), sometimes it is important to concentrate on your child’s strengths and build those up. Those strengths can help to overcome or compensate for the weaknesses. If you only look at your child’s inadequacies, those inadequacies will increase.
9. Give your child appropriate levels of control to manage their own stress
- Set the boundaries but give your child the leeway to determine how things will be done within those boundaries. This empowers our children by giving them a sense of control over their actions, while the boundaries limits the liability in the event that things do not work out.
- Let your child know who she can turn to for help when she needs it.
- Help your child learn to be accountable for the consequences of their actions – e.g. if you squander the time you get to do an assignment and end up having to stay up late the night before to complete it, we will not be available to help you.
10. Allow a period of observation before gradually introducing change
For the shy child, try not to be pushy. Give your child the time and space to adapt at his own pace. Let him watch first then slowly introduce the change. Making allowances for their nature allows them to develop the confidence to handle a situation. If you attempt to squash their nature by being too pushy, you can end up increasing their fear of new challenges.
11. Encourage your child’s passions
Sometimes your child’s passion for an activity can help her to overcome a fear that would otherwise paralyse her. An example given is of a child who is afraid of amusement park rides but a fan of vehicles of all sorts. This child’s obsession with vehicles gave him the courage to take on an amusement park ride featuring a bus. Another example is the photographer who is afraid of heights but is able to overcome the fear while in pursuit of the perfect picture.
12. Cultivate a growth mindset in your child
An individual with a growth mindset knows the value of effort and hard work for achieving goals. She isn’t reliant on “innate ability” to get her there.
Related to helping your child develop a growth mindset. Praising your child’s effort might be: “Wow! You worked really hard on that!” as opposed to “Wow! You’re really smart!” which equates to praising personality.
And that is basically how you can help your child cope with stress and develop resilience so that he can take on life’s challenges and get back onto the horse.