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Happy and Successful Kids Life Skill: Taking on Challenges

Everyone, adults and children, live with some level of stress. After all, life is full of challenges. For adults, these challenges might be financial pressures, relationship or marital problems, job-related issues, and the like. The pressures in children’s lives may seem minor to adults, but these pressures are very real to our kids. Will they deal with their challenges head on, avoid them, or cope with them, passively?

Stress occurs when demands or expectations are greater than the ability to handle them. When these demands or expectations occur, we react physically, mentally, and emotionally. We may experience increased heart rate or sweaty palms. We may lose the ability to focus our attention and think clearly. We may experience fear, embarrassment, or anger.

Our children face life in an ever-increasingly complex world. They are constantly bombarded with new information and daunting choices. They must know how to make difficult decisions, stand up against bullying or dangerous behaviors, and base their decisions on sound, accurate data. Therefore, they need the security of a strong support system and opportunities to take on smaller challenges as they grow to adulthood and independence.

Although you want to shield your children from all of life’s stresses, it’s important to give your kids the opportunity to learn to manage their own challenges, little by little. Research shows that children in warm, loving, and supportive homes are better able to cope with stress: they develop resilience, the ability to face stressors and problem-solve without undue fear of failure. A positive mindset can determine success or failure in handling these difficult situations; ‘I can do it in time and with help’ is an excellent way to take on each challenge faced.

Ways to promote taking on challenges:

  • Manage your own stress levels, as high stress levels tend to spill over to children. If you were raised to fear new situations, you may be unintentionally passing on your own fears to your kids.

  • Don’t shield your children from normal, everyday stresses; these are opportunities for your children to grow and mature.

  • Let your children know they are in a safe place. The security of knowing a caring adult is nearby is all most children need to tackle tough problems.

  • Encourage your children to verbalize a problem and take ownership of that problem: “What could you do differently next time?”

  • Teach your child coping strategies such as counting, taking deep breaths, retreating to a quiet space to calm down - whatever helps them calm down during stressful times (such strategies are healthy for all ages).

Require accountability. When a plan has been made and not followed, work together to set consequences and make a new plan. When a child is allowed to have a role in choice-making, even when they’ve made a mistake, they grow in self-management skills.

If a child is shy, allow them time to watch and observe before entering into new situations. A bit of patience on your part will pay off in an increasingly confident child.

Promote the things your child is passionate about. Leadership grows as a child operates in their area of strength. Support their ‘lemonade stand.’ Whenever you support a kid-generated project, there are benefits in planning, organization, implementation, and evaluation of the job tackled.

Praise a child’s effort and strategies, not their personality or intelligence. For example, “You did a great job of matching that puzzle piece by using that color.” Encouraging good thinking, perseverance, and effort at solving a problem builds confidence when facing challenges. A child who understands that sometimes failure is the next step in solving a problem is on their way to becoming a strong, independent learner.

Role-play dangerous or problematic situations: cyber-bullying, inappropriate touching, protecting their identity when online, etc.

Together, work through sample problems to gain problem-solving strategies: “How can we fix that broken toy of yours?” Entertain all possible solutions and then try the strategies to evaluate their success. Or, “How can we respond when [Alex] becomes angry with you?” Brainstorming possible solutions in advance of difficult situations empowers your young learner to make good decisions.

Your child will face their fair share of problems in life. Begin now to encourage a growth attitude, one that leads to taking responsibility and leads to an ‘I can do it’ attitude.

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun. Find her at janpierce.net. 

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