One of the biggest responsibilities every parent has is to prepare her kids for the real world. Although we’d want to protect them and keep them safe their whole lives, the time will come when they will have to face the real world themselves.
Unfortunately, it can be easy to forget that our kids are not ours to look after all their lives. Preparing them to be adults involve toughening them up so that they learn to be responsible, to handle their mistakes, to be resilient, and to face challenges they will encounter. This does not mean letting them fend for themselves while they’re still very young, but there are lots of loving things we can do to gently help our kids get ‘tough’ enough for real life. Here are a few of them:
1. Don’t fuss over small things. This is something that many parents find difficult to do. It is understandable that we do not want our kids to get hurt in any way, but small scrapes and bruises are not things to fuss too much about. Doing so will only teach your child to run to you for every little thing. When your child gets into a small mishap, assess the situation or injury if there’s one, give first aid if necessary, and then don’t dwell on it anymore. Not making a big deal out of it will help your child learn to brush off the small stuff and not to wallow in self-pity.
2. Let them make mistakes. Mistakes are okay -- and are necessary. Our children learn from them and it builds their resilience and perseverance. Avoid doing everything for your child or closely directing everything he does just to prevent him from making a mistake. Instead, we should help them deal with them in a productive way. Help them evaluate what happened, why the mistake was made, how they could have prevented it, and how they could do better the next time.
3. Teach them to do things on their own. Our kids may still be small, but they are very capable when provided with the proper guidance. It should be a goal to slowly help them become self-reliant as they grow older. Doing things for themselves, such as brushing their own teeth, taking a bath on their own, putting on their clothes, and eating by themselves can all be learned in stages even at a very young age. Don’t be discouraged if they find it very difficult and it takes them a longer time to do it, because that’s really how it is when learning a new skill. You may think that they will eventually learn these stuff anyway, so why hurry it up? But, keep in mind that the objective here is not just to learn how to do these things on their own and be self-reliant, but also to build their independence and self confidence.
4. Encourage them to try new things. There are some kids who are naturally go-getters and are always willing to try new things. However, there are some who are more reserved when it comes to trying something unfamiliar. For these kids, a lot of gentle encouragement will help a lot. The goal is not to remove their fear and hesitation for new things, but to build their courage in overcoming these. You can try exposing them often to activities they’ve never tried before, food they’ve never eaten yet, people they’ve never met, and places they’ve never been.
5. Allow them to struggle -- and to try again. No matter what kind of parenting style you’ve adapted, your kids will eventually encounter something they will struggle with. The best way to prepare them is not to ‘save’ them from the struggles they are facing now while they are young, but to allow them to struggle so that they learn how to persist and overcome these -- something many parents find hard to do. If their struggles end up in failures, it is also important to encourage them to try again and again. These struggles can be as simple as letting your child do a difficult homework or asking your child to clean up his mess without your help.
6. Teach them to fight their own battles. You are your child’s comfort blanket. Whenever your child faces inconveniences like unsolvable puzzles, difficult playmates, or painful accidents, one of their first reactions would always be to come to you for help. Although coming to their rescue is okay every now and then, doing this every single time will prevent them from learning how to solve problems. It’s okay to let them come up with their own solutions first, let them try it out, then show them alternatives, if necessary.
7. Make them face consequences. Letting your child make decisions should not be just about empowerment; it should also be about accepting consequences. Actions and choices have consequences and these will be clearly understood by your child if he has to face them even at a young age. Anticipating the consequences of his actions and choices will also help him learn to make decisions. Always ask him to think of the possible consequences and make sure to follow through by letting him face the outcome instead of rescuing him from it.
8. Don’t let them quit easily. Quitting is a normal, albeit primal, instinct when encountering hardships. This is a common response not just from kids but even from adults, so training your kids not to quit easily is a really tough challenge. Whatever it is that your child chooses to pursue, encourage him not to give up with the appearance of slight difficulties. Whether they be shooting hoops, school projects, or an audition for a school play, make it clear to your child that he should finish things that he started.
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9. Discourage whining and complaining. A lot of kids resort to whining and complaining when they are having difficulty or they want something. Resist the urge to immediately give in to what your child wants just to stop him from whining or complaining, because it will only reinforce this habit. What you can do instead is to gently make reminders whenever he does this, and to demonstrate the proper way he should ask for what he wants instead.
10. Hear them out. Being tough also means having the courage to speak out and to assert one’s self. To help your child develop this courage and assertiveness, you will need to listen to him. Give him opportunities to voice out his opinion and tell you what he thinks. Involve him in decisions that concern him and allow him to participate in the decision-making. This lets him know that his opinions and thoughts matter, and that it is okay to share them with others.