Helping our kids do hard things

Help your kids through challenges. Photo: adobestock

There are all types of parents, and you don’t have to look further than a playground or an athletic field to witness different parenting styles. There are the helicopter parents who are overprotective and hover over their child. Lawnmower parents will go to any length necessary so their child avoids adversity, failure, or struggle. They are known to mow down obstacles before their child has to face them. Parents with these different styles may mean well or come with best intentions but end up doing a huge disservice to their kids. Life is hard and our job as parents is to prepare our children to deal with the struggle, not prevent it. This sounds sensical, but recently I had several situations that found me fighting every urge to fix, rescue, or give in. These would have been the easier options for both my kids and me in the moment but not the long run. When they have to struggle and fight fear, valuable lessons are learned — they can do hard things.  


Looking back at my childhood, some of my strongest memories are of times when I was scared or didn’t think I could do something but was able to fight through it. I remember the fear and anxiousness, but even more I remember the feeling of accomplishment. That feeling of working through something as a child is what I am most grateful for as an adult. Those times taught me resilience, mental toughness, and a belief in myself that I could do hard things. This is the same lesson we are trying to teach our children. I have found that giving them examples of other times they have been brave gives them the building blocks to keep trying. Encountering hard things is part of life, whether it is a challenging college course, paying bills or a tough work environment, we want our kids to know the value of hard work, so they don’t quit when life gets tough. 


We need to equip our children with tools and strategies to overcome hard things. These can be anything from helping them with visualizations to reminding them to take a few deep breaths and count to 10. It is also important to acknowledge and not minimize their feelings.

Occasionally, my youngest son who is very confident will get intimidated and become paralyzed in fear. It is not something we see often so it usually catches us off guard, but acknowledging that there are times we are all scared and sharing an experience where I was scared helps him. 

My oldest recently was away from home for a few weeks for the first time and struggled a bit in the beginning. This was difficult, and I had to resist not going to see her or texting her too much to check in, but we figured out together that it wasn’t her experience away that was challenging, it was seeing all her friends at home having fun without her. This FOMO (fear of missing out) is real thanks to social media, but it provided a real opportunity for her to assess how the more time she spent on social media the worse she felt, and she was also missing out on the being in the moment of where she was. 


Receiving a call or text from your children in tears or on the verge knowing they are homesick, lonely, or just having a rough day can be heartbreaking. Our first reaction may be to dive in and rescue or save them, but we need to stay strong and let them work through it. 

Common in our house is when they forget something for school or practice and expect I will run home, get it, and bring it to them. My rule is they each get one “get out of jail free” pass a year and after that they must accept the consequences. My experience has been when they must learn that lesson — the feeling of forgetting something, not being prepared, and having consequences — they are less likely to let it happen again. We want to give them a safe place to mess up, to learn consequences, and to provide unconditional love so they can get back up and try again.

Last, make sure they see you doing hard things. One of the best ways we can teach our children is by modeling for them the behavior we want to see. We are their parents, but it can be very reassuring for them to see we still have fears, we still get nervous before we do something for the first time, but overcoming hard things makes us stronger. 

Liz Farrell is the mother of three children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected].

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