Teach Kids How to Be Mentally Tough

A mom and daughter playing with blocks

Mentally strong kids are prepared for the challenges of the world. To be clear, mental strength isn't about acting tough or suppressing emotions. It's also not about being unkind or acting defiant. Instead, mentally strong kids are resilient and they have the courage and confidence to reach their full potential. As a parent, there are things you can do to help instill mental strength in your kids.

Tips for Raising Tough Kids

Kids who are mentally strong are able to tackle problems, bounce back from failure, and cope with hardships. Helping kids develop mental strength requires a three-pronged approach. There are three ways to help kids become mentally strong.

  • Help them learn to control their emotions so their emotions don’t control them.
  • Show them how to take positive action.
  • Teach them to replace negative thoughts with more realistic thoughts.

There are many parenting strategies, discipline techniques, and teaching tools that help kids build mental muscle. Tailor your approach to meet the specific needs of your child.

Show Kids How to Be Tough

One of the best ways to teach kids mental strength is to mirror these qualities in your own life. Kids learn how to respond in different situations by watching their parents. So, try to be cognizant of your own mental toughness and work on areas that need improvement. Here are some ways to show your kids how to be mentally strong.

Role Model Mental Strength

Showing your child how to be mentally strong is the best way to encourage them to develop mental strength. Talk about your personal goals and show your child that you’re taking steps to grow stronger. Make self-improvement and mental strength a priority in your own life and avoid the ​things mentally strong parents don’t do.

Show Your Child How to Face Fears

If your child avoids anything scary, they'll never gain the confidence they need to handle feeling uncomfortable. Whether your child is afraid of the dark, or they are terrified to meet new people, help your child face their fears one small step at a time.

Cheer them on, praise their efforts, and reward them for being brave and they'll learn that they're a capable kid who can handle stepping outside their comfort zone.

Teach Mental Toughness

Look for opportunities to empower your kids to be mentally strong. By working with them in different situations you can impart the mental toughness they need to deal with uncomfortable emotions and handle challenging situations. Here are some specific ways you can teach your kids to be mentally strong no matter what life throws at them.

Teach Specific Skills

Discipline should be about teaching your kids to do better next time, not making them suffer for their mistakes. Use consequences that teach specific skills, such as problem-solving skills, impulse control, and self-discipline. These skills will help your child learn to behave productively, even when they're faced with temptation, tough circumstances, and difficult setbacks.

Teach Emotion Regulation Skills

Don't calm your child down when they're angry or cheer them up every time they're sad. Instead, teach them how to deal with uncomfortable emotions on their own, so they don't grow to depend on you to regulate their moods. Kids who understand their feelings and know how to deal with them are better prepared to deal with challenges.

Let Your Child Make Mistakes

Teach your child that mistakes are part of the learning process so they don't feel ashamed or embarrassed about getting something wrong. Allow for natural consequences when it’s safe to do so and talk about how to avoid repeating the same mistake next time.

Foster Tough Abilities

Building mental strength in kids requires also paying attention to their confidence levels, independence, and self-esteem. Work with your kids to fine tune these areas of their lives while encouraging healthy habits that build mental strength. Here are some ways to build upon what they are learning about mental toughness.

Encourage Healthy Self-Talk

It’s hard for kids to feel mentally strong when they’re bombarding themselves with put-downs or when they’re predicting catastrophic outcomes. Teach your child to reframe negative thoughts so they can think more realistically. Developing a realistic, yet optimistic, outlook can help kids get through tough times and perform at their peak.

Build Character

Kids need a strong moral compass to help them make healthy decisions. Work hard to instill your values in your child. Create opportunities for life lessons that reinforce your values regularly. For example, emphasize the importance of honesty and compassion, rather than winning at all costs.

Children who understand their values are more likely to make healthy choices—even when others may disagree with their actions.

Allow Your Child to Feel Uncomfortable

Although it can be tempting to help a child whenever they're struggling, rescuing them from distress will reinforce to them that they're helpless. Let your child lose, allow them to feel bored, and insist they are responsible even when they don't want to be. With support and guidance, struggles can help your child build mental strength.

Make Gratitude a Priority

Gratitude is a wonderful remedy for self-pity and other bad habits that can prevent your child from being mentally strong. Help your child affirm all the good in the world, so that even on their worst days, they'll see that they have much to feel thankful for. Gratitude can boost your child’s mood and encourage proactive problem-solving.

Affirm Personal Responsibility

Building mental strength involves accepting personal responsibility. Allow for explanations—​but not excuses when your child makes a mistake or misbehaves. Correct your child if they try to blame others for how they think, feel, or behave.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to building your child's mental strength, it takes commitment and consistency. But with regular communication, practicing when tough situations arise, and working to build their confidence and self-esteem on a regular basis, you will be imparting mental strength.

Look for opportunities to start small and build from there. Also, help them grow and learn from their mistakes. In no time, your kids will have a mental strength that will last a lifetime.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Adventures in parenting.

  3. American academy of pediatrics. Understanding childhood fears and anxieties.

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  5. Ursache A, Blair C, Raver CC. The promotion of self-regulation as a means of enhancing school readiness and early achievement in children at risk for school failureChild Dev Perspect. 2012;6(2):122-128. doi:10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00209.x

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quick tips: six keys to using discipline and consequences.

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to help children build resilience in uncertain times.

  8. American Academy of Pediatrics. Creating positive experiences for school-age kids.

Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.