My recent knee injury requiring Medieval torture physical therapy (which is why I have not blogged in awhile) taught me some lessons to pass on to parents who want to cultivate the Toughest Kid on Earth. Hint: It’s not simply by telling them they need to be tough.
As we age we get injured, sometimes seriously. What you need to keep in mind as a parent is as you experience pain you have an opportunity to prepare your children to be resilient even if they have a bad accident. And unfortunately some of our children will…and most will have to endure something really painful at some point. Sports injuries, car accidents, etc, …they will happen!
So let’s start with a question for you parents. How did you learn to be tough? Most of us were brought up Old School: Suck it up! Get over it! Put your Big Girl pants on! Shake it off! There is some value in this approach, but much less than you may realize.
While the goal (Get TOUGH!!!!) of this Old School approach has value, the idea that you teach your kid to get tough by saying GET TOUGH is primitive mythology.
Let me explain via what a Navy Seal friend of mine told me, i.e., someone who is “tough as nails”. He said that when it came time to do undergo Seal Training where they do Herculean and crazy stuff, whether someone held in their fear was no predictor of who performed well. In fact, he said often the guys who could be honest (and be objective, not irrational) about their fears BEFORE the task often did better. He said these guys could then compartmentalize better and go on and “get er’ done”….Why?????
I think this boils down to psychological reality: Courage is not the absence of fear/pain, it is the MASTERY of fear/pain. In other words, the most courageous and exemplary people (leaders, heroes, etc.) are not necessarily the least fearful or distressed on the inside. Rather, the most courageous people use strategies/techniques/skills to master their internal fear so thoroughly that they externally perform in an extraordinary fashion. But their first step is to be honest about what is going on inside!
In other words to master it they must recognize it, turn it inside out, let it breathe (even if momentarily).
Teach your child to be honest and comfortable with their feelings of worry or anxiety. Often those feelings are simply what genetics gave them. They are just the first reaction, sometimes hard-wired. Let’s face it: If either of you parents is worrier, guess what, your child has a genetic predisposition to worry. And they will watch what you do and how cope is how they will cope. Plain and simple.
So, if you want a TOUGH AS NAILS KID, first be realistic about your child’s temperament and adjust accordingly. Every child is born with a basic temperament, some are born more sensitive and others less so. Start from where they are mentally when faced with stress. And look for where their skill gaps are and fill those in over time. And don’t overuse motivational speeches, they have a short half-life. Rather, you sharing with them what strategies you have found helpful will help them the most. Consult a behavioral scientist in your area if you want to enlarge your skill box.
The toughest kids I know have a large toolbox of strategies to deploy. They are not the children of the simple-minded parents who themselves have a limited toolbox.
What strategies did I teach my kids as I would need to perform torturous activities for 10-weeks everyday to get better?
-learning that pain is a feeling only, and necessary to experience for growth and healing
-experiencing pain is one of the best ways to get a sense of your core toughness. Use your response as a way to assess where your skill gaps are
-when it hurts the most you can laugh
-saying THIS REALLY HURTS is fine, what really matters if what you do then. And what you do is you focus on your ability to always overcome NO MATTER WHAT
-making jokes about your own pain is good for the Soul
-music takes the mind off the painful task at hand
-sometimes you may need to let feelings out, whatever they are, with people you trust
-being tough means you stay positive but you also are realistic about how injury can challenge your optimism. But that is only temporary.
Future prediction: Even military warriors will undergo much more comprehensive psychological assessment/training to determine more precisely where their skill gaps are. That is, toughness will become more defined by your awareness of (and mastery of) your nervous system’s automatic reactions than by your ability to ignore your inner life.