Developing more mental muscle is key to reaching your greatest potential--and helping your kids reach their goals in life. In fact, research indicates social and emotional skills are more vital to a child’s future success than academic skills.
Fortunately, you don’t need to engage in grueling exercises that inflict pain in order to promote growth. Instead, adopting a few simple habits can help everyone in the family grow stronger and become better.
Here are five exercises that can help the entire family build mental strength this school year:
1. Use Feeling Words
Make it a daily habit to label your emotions. Whether you say, “I am frustrated that there aren’t any parking spots,” or, “I’m so excited that we’re going to Grandma’s house tomorrow,” use feeling words in your everyday conversations.
Ask questions about your child’s feelings as well. Keep in mind that kids need practice talking about their emotions.
When you ask, “How did you feel when your friend said you couldn’t sit with him at lunch?” your child might say, “I thought he was mean.” You may need to assist them in learning the difference between thoughts, feelings and behavior.
Over time, you’ll notice your kids will start naming their feelings too. And being able to label an emotion can take a lot of the sting out. It’s also the first step in helping kids figure out how their emotions affect their decisions and how they can cope with their discomfort.
2. Challenge Yourselves to Do Uncomfortable Things Each Month
A little discomfort is key to growth. Challenge yourselves to do hard things.
A great way to do this is by establishing a new goal each month. Help your child create a 30-day challenge, like practicing the piano every day for 20 minutes. Or, your child might set an academic goal, like improving their science grade by at least 3 points.
Of course, it’s important to establish short-term goals for yourself too so you can role model healthy self-development. Establish a personal or professional goal for each month alongside your child.
Write your goals down, review your progress together, and cheer one another on. Each month you’ll have an opportunity to talk about failures, success, mistakes, self-discipline, and goal-setting strategies.
3. Encourage Healthy Self-Talk
When your child says things like, “This will never work,” or “I’ll never pass my math class,” resist the urge to swoop in and offer positive sentiments.
Instead, teach them to speak to themselves with a kinder, more compassionate inner dialogue. Ask, “What would you say to your best friend if they said that?”
Chances are, your child would have gentler words for someone else. Encourage your child to speak to themselves with that same kindness.
You also might encourage them to “argue the opposite.” So a child who is convinced they’ll never pass math, may need to look for evidence that they will in fact get a passing grade.
Arguing the opposite can help them eventually develop a more realistic outlook, such as “If I try hard, I can increase the chances I’ll pass math.”
4. Celebrate Your Courage
Making mistakes and failing are part of the process toward becoming mentally strong. But it’s important to celebrate everyone’s courage for trying-;rather than shaming them for not reaching their goals.
Make it a habit to talk about any mistakes and failures that you engage in and encourage your kids to do the same.
Invite everyone to celebrate each time someone is brave, regardless of the outcome. Say things like, “I didn’t get the promotion but I’m so happy that I found the courage to apply,” or “I’m so proud of you for being brave and raising your hand in class today even though you were nervous.”
5. Problem-Solve Together
Whether your child is struggling with a specific child on the playground or they’re having trouble in a certain class, look for solutions together.
Ask questions like, “What are some things we could do about this?” or “How do you think you could solve this problem?”
Brainstorm as many potential solutions as you can--make it clear that it’s OK to offer ridiculous ideas when you’re brainstorming.
Then, pick a solution together. If that doesn’t solve the problem, try plan B.
The key is to teach your child that there are many ways to solve the same problem while also empowering your child to take action.
Keep Building Mental Muscle
It’s never too soon to start teaching kids how to regulate their thoughts, manage their emotions and take positive action. Just like building physical strength is an ongoing process, developing mental strength is too.
And no matter how strong everyone is already, there’s always room for improvement. So make it a priority this school year to incorporate mental strength training into your family’s daily routine.