No parent wants their kids’ lives to be difficult. But we also know that part of our job is to prepare our kids for the hard knocks and tough breaks they’re sure to encounter.
How do we set them up for success in today’s competitive world if they never learn to get up when they fall, to face misfortune and mess-ups with courage and resolve? We can’t. While helicopter parents won’t want to hear it, our kids can’t learn to be brave unless we’re willing to let them fall, and sometimes fall hard.
Here are five ways to encourage your kids to become courageous and self-reliant.
Start with the Bed
Being brave is not a standalone quality. Linda Kaplan Thaler, coauthor of Grit to Great, says we should start by teaching them to make their beds every day. “Navy Seals insist that this is one of the most important things they learn in training,” she says. “Making a bed gives kids a feeling of accomplishment before they even leave the house. Plus, it teaches them how to do small things expertly, since they can’t master big things until they master the smallest ones.”
Never Do What They Can Do Themselves
“Finding their own solutions is the only way children will stretch themselves, grow, and mature,” says Annabella Hagen, a psychologist and owner of Mindset Family Therapy in Utah. “If we rescue them every time they face a challenge, they won’t learn that they can actually problem-solve for themselves.”
How do you know when to let a kid fly without a net? “Anything you know your child can do for themselves, they should do themselves, even if it would be easier and quicker for you to solve it for them,” she says.
Share a Struggle
Being brave doesn’t always feel like bravery. It can fill you with dread or drag down your mood and sense of well-being. But sometimes our greatest struggles create the best examples of our courage, says Hagen, author of Emma’s Worry Clouds, a children’s book that helps kids overcome anxiety. “Discuss a current, shareable problem with your child, and the positive way you are handling it, even though it’s been hard for you,” she suggests.
If kids see that their parents face and then resolve their own challenges, she adds, it gives them the guts to handle their own scrapes.
Expose Them to Risk
When you give kids the opportunity to take risks, or to do risky activities in a secure environment, you help produce pluckiness, says sports psychologist Jim Taylor, Ph.D., author of Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child.
Indoor climbing, for example, is “fun, very safe, and yet pushes them out of their comfort zone enough to make them feel like they’re doing something brave,” Taylor says. Of course, a Spartan Kids Race can provide the same benefits.
Give Them a Spear
It’s crucial to ensure your kid’s safety, but beware the thin line between protecting and pampering. In his fascinating TED Talk, Gever Tulley, author of 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do),suggests that by coddling our young we’re cutting them off from valuable opportunities to learn how to interact with the world and its challenges.
Instead, we should encourage them to throw spears, sleep in the wild, and fool around with fire. Giving them a taste of danger not only teaches them to be brave, Tulley says, but to be curious, confident, and self-reliant as well.
In the end, boosting bravery in your kids benefits you as much as them. “The principle of ‘hard is good’ can become part of any family culture,” Hagen says. “It takes time, but children can be taught to embrace that outlook on life and its challenges.”
There’s also a real downside to engineering out too many of life’s aches, pains, and uncomfortable moments. “If you make life easier for your children when they are young, they will make life harder for you when they are older,” she says. “If you make life harder for your children when they are young, they will make life easier for you when they are older. All parents get to make that choice.”