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Our Blog: May 2, 2013

Teaching Kids to Take on Challenges

Teaching Children to ChallengeIt’s one thing to say that you want your children to experience challenges, but it’s quite another to sit tight while they struggle through difficult times. Recently our family made a cross-country move that landed my 10- and 8-year-old sons 2,500 miles from home, in a new house and a new school. I had to steel myself for the tears, but I knew that if I taught the kids to gracefully take on challenges, I’d be giving them a great gift.

In fact, “taking on challenges” is one of the seven life skills that child development expert Ellen Galinsky touts in Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs. In her chapter on this topic, Galinsky talks about how though our natural instinct may be to shield kids from struggle, we’re better off teaching them coping strategies. No kid can make it through life stress-free and, as kids get older, Ellen advises that they should become increasingly involved in solving their own problems.

At first, my younger son, Hank, couldn’t seem to cope. But slowly, and I think because I didn’t immediately jump in to solve his problems, Hank started creating his own solutions. To ward off loneliness and boredom, he started a lemonade stand. When a neighbor boy stopped by to check it out, they forged a business partnership — and a budding friendship. A week later, Hank decided that he wanted to try something else new — skateboarding! — and found himself with an invitation to a birthday party at a bona fide skateboard park a few weeks later.  And this set off a chain reaction, as Hank became open to finding the positive in his new experience.

Here are some techniques that you can apply to help your own kids cope with change:

  • Put on a brave face – Kids take their cues from parents, so as hard as it is for you to watch them struggle, stay calm and remind them that you believe everything will be fine.
  • Relate – Tell your kids about times when you faced the challenge of change, and how you worked your way to a solution. They’ll feel better knowing that you faced a similar situation and came through with flying colors.
  • Offer extra love during difficult times – Whether it’s a small present, a note of encouragement, or an afternoon doing something fun together, remind your kids that you love them unconditionally and will always have their backs.

Have your children been presented with a challenging situation or a big change? What did you do to help them cope?

About the Author

Hollee Schwartz Temple

Hollee Schwartz Temple is a professor at West Virginia University College of Law. She is a work/life balance columnist for the American Bar Association Journal, the nation's premier lawyer magazine, and blogs about work/life issues at Hollee is the coauthor of Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood.