A dad takes his six-year-old daughter to play at a playground. The monkey bars have been a challenge for her. She had tried many times in the past, and on the second or third bar, she typically fell. This time, she tries to hang on, but her hands get slippery and on the 4th bar, she falls. She gets discouraged and decides to quit.
At that very moment, her dad remembers an experience from a few weeks before. Tina was trying something that was difficult. She wasn’t able to do it, but she persisted with hard work and her dad praised her effort. They both decided to come up with an animal nickname for her that would represent physical and emotional strength –being fearless, so as to help her see herself in a different way. She became Tiger Tina.
On this day, as the dad sees his daughter’s discouragement, he says to her, “I wonder if Tiger Tina can do it? What do you think?” Tina appears to be in deep thought for a few seconds, and then a powerful change occurs. She decisively gets up from the ground, gets back up the monkey bars and goes all the way across for the first time in her life. When she is done getting across, she says, “I did it!” Her dad praises her effort and calls her Tiger Tina! They celebrate the accomplishment together.
What created this dramatic transformation in her attitude and achievement? Simply put, Tina’s dad helped her to see herself differently –like a fearless tiger. She first began to see herself as a tiger, and then she acted like one. She believed that she could do it, and then she did. When she returned home, she shared the successful experience with her mom, which reinforced her Tiger Tina persona even more. She was on the road to gradually changing the way she sees herself, and future results can reflect that mental pivot.
This can be a great lesson for all parents who watch their kids struggle to try new or hard things. The way they think and feel about themselves will translate into the way they act. As you help your children modify the way they think about themselves, you will change the way they behave. Here are three steps to help you incorporate this principle into your parenting:
- If you want to change the way your children act, you need to change the way they think about themselves. Provide them with frequent opportunities to do so.
- As they try experiences that are difficult, remember to focus on and celebrate any effort they make. When there is a successful outcome, this can replace the mindset that in fact, it pays off to put out their best effort even when circumstances are difficult.
- Most children enjoy animals. During play and conversations with your children, talk about them and what kind of creature they wish they could be and why. Talk about their characteristics and mention animals that remind them of being strong and brave. Invite them to choose the animal they want to be to help them feel courageous. Help your children see themselves differently with appropriate nicknames and bring them up often to remind them that they can be brave and do hard things.
These can be small steps towards shaping their fearless mindset. For this father, the playground experience was a powerful teaching moment. The same thing can happen with your children in your home. Try it and see what happens. You can raise your child to be fearless like Tiger Tina!