SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

April 2014

Toughen Up, Kid!

Teaching your children to be mentally and emotionally strong so that they can take on the world around them with panache and confidence might not be as tricky as you think.

One of the toughest jobs when it comes to bringing up children is making sure their mental and emotional needs are met. This also involves preparing them for dealing with the hardships of life and to make sure that they are tough enough to deal with almost any situation thrown at them. ‘It’s not fair!’ they sometimes say; it’s your job as a parent to prepare them to deal with it.

While it’s not a particularly easy task getting them ready for the real world, it certainly isn’t an impossible one. What they need is mental toughness, and the key word to getting this is ‘resilience’.


“In today’s busy world, children need to develop strengths, skills to cope and recover from hardships and be prepared for future challenges,” says Fiona Walker, CEO and Principal of Schools, Julia Gabriel Education. “In order to succeed in life, children need to be able to bounce back from any adversity they face.

“Some children are resilient by nature and some are not. However, the good news is resilience can be nurtured and developed. In order to achieve that, modelling positive coping strategies on a consistent basis is important. At the same time, guiding children to develop positive and effective coping strategies, for example, this could be quiet time after a big disappointment or frustration so they can gather themselves and reduce tantrums. Telling children to stop negative behaviour won’t work, nor will punishing them for negative behaviour like crying or having a tantrum.”

While resilience is the answer to having mentally strong children, emotional toughness is a different ball game altogether.

“Developing close ties to family and other loved ones helps create a sense of security in young children that leads to strong values and emotional strength,” Walker explains. “This can be done by building a sense of physical and emotional security in your home and accepting the expression of all emotions. By focussing on the best in your child and clearly expressing your appreciation of these qualities, your child will see these too and begin to develop confidence in himself.”

Start Them Young

The most effective way to get the best results from your child is to start when they’re very young.

“From as young as possible, we can help children develop social connection, optimism, problem-solving skills and a sense of security which will lead to independence,” says Walker. “In our centre, we do this from the age of six months but at home you can start as soon as you bring the baby home. You will be training yourself to be a positive model.”

Leading by example is certainly an important piece of advice in this situation and a positive attitude is a good contributing factor too.

dirty hands

“The most important factor in developing mental and emotional strength in your child is your attitude,” says Walker. “If you have a positive attitude and are supportive and empathetic when things don’t go the way your child hoped, you are modelling the kind of ‘can do’ attitude you want them to have even when life throws them a curve ball.

“Once children are about three years old, we can begin to talk to them about their feelings and show acceptance of feelings, even negative feelings such as anger and sadness.”

Making your child resilient will help them once they leave home and are away from the comforts of their parents or caregivers.

Walker explains: “We want our children to take on the world around them and not be knocked down by setbacks. We don’t want tactless or mean taunts from other children to damage their self-esteem. If children are bullied in school, face divorcing parents or a serious illness, then mental and emotional strength will see them through the tough times.”

The Right Balance

Another tricky aspect of this situation is getting the right balance for your child; you want him to be assertive but not to go overboard with such behaviour. It all comes down to getting the right mix.

“Enable your child to develop confidence and positive self-esteem and, at the same time, develop empathy,” says Walker. “Encourage children to share how they feel and to speak up when they have an idea to share. By modelling respectful listening and encouraging and praising effort and contribution, we show our children that we value what they have to say and their feelings and at the same time we show them that the opinions and feelings of others are very important.

“Children who are exposed to a variety of social situations will be more confident and at ease with others outside their family circle. This exposure goes a long way to develop children’s level of confidence when it comes to asserting their views.”

There are, of course, certain situations where a child can give in to emotions and not be able to just ‘deal with it’. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes and children, being children, sometimes struggle with the strong emotions that overcome them.

“The most important thing to teach them is that it’s okay,” says Walker. “Being sad, angry or frustrated is absolutely natural. Children who are emotionally and mentally strong are not void of these emotions, they are just able to handle them and bounce back quicker than some others.

“If your child has been upset by an event, it’s good to empathise then begin to discuss any ideas that make them feel better. A favourite ice-cream, a movie or a bubble bath with lots of toys or helping to make cookies together. The last thing you want to do is make your child feel ashamed of his emotions.”

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Toughen Up, Kid!