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How To Raise Mentally Tough Kids

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When I was offered a position as an FBI agent, I was told one of the things they liked most about me was that I came from a large cattle ranch in the middle of Wyoming. I was not one of the pampered and coddled kids so often produced by modern parents and growing up in the suburbs.

Living on a ranch, I learned the meaning of the word “responsibility” because my daily chores included feeding horses, cows, cats, dogs and a meager number of chickens that managed to escape the jaws of hungry coyotes.

The word chore means “a necessary but unpleasant task.” In fact, I couldn’t join after-school programs or participate in sports because my first responsibility was always my chores waiting for me at home. 

In the rough Wyoming winters, the very weather I most wanted to avoid is exactly when I was most needed by the animals who depended upon me for their food, water, and shelter. It mattered when I was late—or simply forgot because of my own selfish behavior. I saw it in their eyes as they waited with expectation for me to take care of them.

I was not raised to be a wimp because I’d rather be snuggled up next to a fireplace in a snowstorm, nor to be self-indulgent because I’d rather be doing something that was fun rather than a chore that was work—I was raised to be mentally tough by understanding the importance of grit, accountability, and self-reliance. 

2014 Braun Research study surveyed 1,001 U.S. adults and found 82 percent had regular chores as youth, but only 28 percent expect the same for their children.

The reason?

Kids are so busy learning foreign languages, sports, and other skills that will catapult them to success as adults that they have no time for the rigors, discipline, and dull routine of household chores.

There is no doubt that the discipline of learning in general, and sports in particular, will lead to confidence and self-reliance. But according to Richard Rende, co-author of “Raising Can-Do Kids,” decades of studies show that household chores are a proven predictor of success.

To raise kids who are mentally tough in today’s world means they need to succeed academically, emotionally, and professionally. Academics, sports—and yes, chores—all need to be present if you want your child to have the mental toughness they will need to thrive as adults.

Here are 5 tips on how to raise kids who are mentally tough:

1. Start Early

Dr. Marty Rossmann found that young adults who began chores at the age of 3 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success, and to be self-sufficient.

2. Create A Need For Empathy

While livestock in the backyard may not be suitable for most suburban families, when your child learns to care about someone or something besides themselves, they become empathic and responsive to the needs of others.

In a startling survey by psychologist Richard Weissbourd, he discovered that almost 80% of high school students chose either achievement or happiness over caring for others.

Parents can readjust their child’s skewed priorities by teaching them to be loving and kind at home. Pets are a great place to start, just as I grew up loving animals.

3. Stick To Your Guns

Many kids do have household chores, but when they come whining and complaining about how much homework they have to do, parents are tempted to let them off the hook.

Big mistake.

You are sending a dangerous message to your kid about their responsibilities and priorities by saying that achievement is more important than sticking to their commitments. They may be able to sweet-talk you into giving in, but eventually they will meet someone who is not concerned that they’ve got a full plate.

I mean, how well do you think whining and complaining about a busy day is going to work with their boss?

4. Use The Right Language

Studies have found that being described as a “helper” gives a child a positive role and identity, as opposed to saying the child is “helping.”

A helper is an individual of action who helps others.

5. Praise Often

Remember to acknowledge when your kid has done their chores and to praise them correctly by saying, “You did a great job because you worked so hard.”  When you affirm that they have succeeded because of the effort they put out, they will understand that it always takes effort to do a job well. 

This creates a growth mindsetI can learn to be smarter, better, or more skilled.

Never say, “You did a great job because you are so smart.” This creates a fixed mindset that leads a child to believe their success is dependent upon their intelligence, skills, or attractiveness.

6. Keep Allowances And Chores Separate

Experts advise that external rewards, like money, can actually lesson a child’s motivation to help out with chores. Rewards teach them to turn altruistic acts into business transactions.

7. Teach Independence

Why do American children depend on their parents to do things for them that they are capable of doing for themselves? 

According to the Wall Street Journal’s “Field Guide to the Middle Class,” while a 5-year-old in Peru’s Amazon region can be found climbing trees to harvest papayas and “helping haul logs thicker than her leg to stoke a fire,” an 8-year-old in America’s Los Angeles region can be found lying on his back on a sofa, ordering his dad to untie his shoe—and being scolded only because he didn’t say “please.”

We’re all very busy, and sometimes it’s just much easier to do the chore ourselves rather than see it done slowly and imperfectly. But parents are the ones who must teach their kids to be capable and independent.

Click here for a list of suggested chores by age.

How have you raised your child to be mentally tough?

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