From the time a child is born, they constantly try to make sense of the world. A child comes out the womb screaming their lungs out (not all of them) because they have entered into a new sphere, one that they are yet to understand and learn. The understanding of the world comes in stages and, through these stages, the parent or caregiver becomes the connection between the child and the world, so your child sees the world and experiences the world through you, the parent. So, the parent needs to feed into the brain of the child.
Being an adult and a parent, I have come to see and understand how the world works; we have realized the good in it, the bad and the ugly. Equipped with all this knowledge about the world, it is important that we take time to train our kids to be mentally strong so they can deal with whatever the world throws at them.
Being mentally strong
This is one’s ability to behave or maintain some type of normality in the presence of adversity. Being mentally strong is something that children need to learn at a young age because life does not prepare anybody for adversity. A child needs to grow up knowing that circumstances can change for the good or the better but they still need to maintain some normality and also deal with things head on.
In case you think your child is too young
The biggest mistake we make as parents is thinking that our children do not need such training when they are young because we may feel they may grasp the concept of it all or just that it is a heavy phenomenon for our child to bear. Unfortunately, the world there does not think about age and the mental capacity of children; if you as a parent do not mentally train your child, the world is always ready to do so.
There is a theory that was proposed by John Locke, that children come into this world “a blank slate”. This means that children come into this world with no mental equipment to help them get through the world, but the environment around a child is what shapes the cognition and perception of a child in adulthood. Although this theory was opposed, it was however a new way of looking at parent child relationships.
Reasons to train your child mentally
Some of the reasons to mentally train your child have been highlighted above, but in the list below, we will discuss some of the most pertinent reasons it is important to train your child:
- Be different and do what everyone else is doing
We always encourage our kids to be themselves and dare to be different. The world we live in encourages this in theory but in reality it shames anything that is out of the ordinary. So because your child is black, or wears a hijab to school, or has freckles or a disability e.t.c, distinctive factors which they did not choose, they are more likely to be bullied. So in actuality it does not matter if your child is choosing to be different or not, if they stand out, they are likely to be a target of some sort.
- Social media
We are constantly bombarded with so much information through these gadgets we so dearly love and can never live without. Social media media influences us from all aspects of our lives, the information comes at you quickly and in real time, you do not have to wait till 7PM to watch the news and find out what is happening in the world, like the olden days. Now we get information as it happens, unfortunately, so do our children. Since the introduction of social media it has become even more difficult to parent children because their self concept and understanding of the world has become more and more influenced by social media.
- Burdens from our own traumatic experiences as parents
It is easier to blame the world and social media because they can’t really take responsibility for the damage they cause. It is hard to accept that we as parents can be toxic towards our kids and no this is not our fault at all. We were raised by parents who did not understand the importance of mental health and some of our parents were even toxic. We need to train our kids to be able to deal with our own faults when it comes to parenting. This is because we as parents have had to train ourselves so in the process it is possible that we may relapse into toxicity and burden our children with that.
There are other reasons that would prompt parents to train their children’s mentality, the reasons are not limited to the ones that are mentioned above. As a parent, you can do your introspection and identify your reasons for wanting to train your child’s psychological muscles. Regardless of the reasons, it is important to come up with some type of tool that could work for you and your child. If you do not know where to start or how to actually put what I will suggest in practise, you can join a local parents group or one of the following organizations to help you through:
Mental training tips
It is important to note that, culturally we differ but regardless, we still need to train our children mentally and the following tips are embedded on communication. In some cultures, parents talk and children listen, and others, children ask the parents to jump and the parents ask “ how high”. These tips will need your family to put in the work and if this is difficult, do not be afraid to ask for external help. We learn these tips in terms of developmental stages.
|Age||Social and emotional development||Mental health training tip|
|0-12 month Infant||Very attached to parents and caregiver and can express fear for strangers||Show your child safety and love through smiles by singing songs and keeping them at close range whilst also allowing independence for exploration.|
|1-2 years Toddler||The child starts to recognise that they are not one with their parents, they can also indicate needs and wants through crying.||When the child is crying help them to identify how they are feeling in a language that they will understand e.g. “ baby sad because baby hungry”|
|3-5 years Pre-school||Able to separate from carer and start building a world of their own. At this stage, children start forming relationships.||It is important to listen to your child, especially from this stage because this is when they learn if it is safe or not to talk to you as their parent. Allow the child to make mistakes and reprimand them where need be, and do so in a nurturing manner that will be educative. For example, when they throw a tantrum, be calm and ask the child to tell you how they feel and show them a better way to achieve their outcome instead of a tantrum.|
|6-12years School||More emotionally and physically independent but still attached to parents.||At this stage, social media and intentional bullying and influences outside of parents creep in. Teach your child to have a positive self concept. Help your child to identify things he/she loves about him/herself. Be a good friend to your child because at this point he/she starts to see the world for what it is.|
|13-18years Teen||Experiences a lot of mood swings and bodily changes, more peer and external influences influences||This is the time when you need to be most gentle and assertive with your child because they are going through a lot, they want to be themselves but they also want to be cool. Try to talk to your child as much as possible, be interested in what they do and what they are into (without judgement). Also use books to speak to your child. One book we might wish we had at 16 was “what a time to be alone”|
|19+ Adult||At this point children can make their own choices as adults.||Be present for your child and trust them enough to make the right decisions and be supportive.|
For the above table to happen, the family has to prioritize mental health as a group, this will help them to support each other even when they face adversity. If as a parent, you need to take therapy to deal with issues that hinder your parenting skills, do so, this will not only help you to be a better parent but it will also break the stigma of psychotherapy in your household.