How to build mental toughness and develop strong girls and boys

How to build mental toughness and develop strong girls and boys
March 13, 2018 Niels van Hove

You can help increase your children’s mental strength by teaching them skills to develop their resilience, curiosity, confidence and growth mindset.

All parents want the best for their children. They also want to raise strong girls and boys. As adults, we know that life will throw many curve balls at our kids. We want them to be resilient, but we also want more for them than just dealing with setbacks.

We want them to live life to their full potential. To ensure that children thrive, we need to help them become curious, proactive, positive and confident in their abilities and interactions. We need them to be mentally tough.

What is mental toughness?

Mental Toughness is not about acting tough. It’s about having the inner strength to persevere and chase personal goals. It’s about being happy in your own skin. It’s about having the confidence to get outside your comfort zone to grow.

It’s about seeing opportunities rather than threats and about dealing with pressure, stress and challenges with a positive mindset. Mental Toughness originates from elite sport, where it has been used with success for over 30 years, but applies to everyday life too – both for children and adults.

Research shows that mentally tough children perform up to 25% better in exams. They sleep better, are more engaged in the classroom and have higher aspirations. They also transition more successfully from junior to secondary education, perceive less bullying and are less likely to adopt anti-social behaviour.

How you can help your children become mentally tough?

Tip # 1 Challenge – stretch your children and help them see challenges as an opportunity to learn. Tell them it’s ok to fail and let them know that you failed many times. Remind them that with every failure, they’ve learned something. Encourage your child to ‘have a go’ at something new.

Tip # 2 Confidence – help your kids develop their self-belief and become confident in their interactions. Tell them it is ok to be scared or have fears in the classroom. Accepting these feelings is the first step and overcoming them. Remind them the power of YET! If they say they can’t do something. Tell them ‘you can’t do it YET!’ Remind your kids that everyone has their own mind and thoughts. It is good to make up your own mind and it ok to disagree every now and then.

Tip # 3 Commitment – teach them how to set and achieve goals Work with your children to set them small goals, for example brushing their teeth, making lunch or packing their school bag. Praise your child’s efforts rather than just their outcomes. Remind them that is ok to not get it right the first time, every skill requires practice and time.

Tip # 4 Control – teach your children about self-esteem, help them become comfortable in their own skin and manage their emotions. Ask your child what went well at school today. Find three positives and explore why they were good experiences. Discuss setbacks, like missing out on being chosen to be in a play, or losing a game or not being able to do something. Remind them that setbacks are a normal part of life and they will have the opportunity to try again. Talk about the events they don’t like during their day and discuss how they reacted to those. Empower them by explaining how they can choose to react to these events.

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My first children’s book, My Strong Mind, was published in October 2017. I wrote it based on stories from my two girls, who were aged 6 and 8 back then. I wanted them to become strong girls! I published My Strong Mind II in August 2019, to help develop strong boys!