The idea of strength has changed over the years. Years ago, we were told, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” My own favorite: “I’m rubber and you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!” As silly as this was, this quote hid within it some valuable wisdom about true strength and character: words only had power over us when we let them.

Today, we’re bombarded by social media and social science articles that teach us as parents about creating “safety” not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. What does this mean for us as parents? What is our response to this kind of attitude? What are the long-term consequences of forcing change on society and societal structures rather than teaching children resilience, fortitude, and self-discipline?

With the human body, it was found that astronauts—chosen for the job because they were exemplars of physical and mental health—did not normally use their muscles when in outer space. As a result, the muscles atrophied and weakened at an alarming rate. So much so that they had to make a point to have them intentionally and vigorously counteract this with intense exercise. What this means is that contrary to what we might assume, using our muscles upgrades rather than downgrades them!

So how can we apply this to our parenting practices? How can we teach this to our kids?

It could start as simply discovering the truth about natural laws, the human body and our brains! In God’s loving design, we can see how continuous and constant use of both can actually improve them. Significantly, giving your children a sense of this grand and loving design gives them a vast backdrop of loving, meaningful spirituality—to see the world with more than what meets the eye and to foster a sense of purpose, humility as well as gratitude, and strength.

The Mayo Clinic supports this kind of practice in helping to deal with stress and obstacles, noting, “Your personal concept of spirituality may change with your age and life experiences, but it always forms the basis of your well-being, helps you cope with stressors large and small, and affirms your purpose in life.”

In my own life, teaching this to my kids has been hit or miss when taught in abstract concepts but one image that stuck a little better than others was: seeds. Everything starts with a seed and seeds are generally very, very small. When we would go hiking in the forest, I would comment that even these enormous trees started as a seed. Later, I would connect the wonder we felt there to the little bumps and obstacles we go through in life. When my son felt he was “no good” at writing, I gently reminded him that everything starts small, like a seed. And if we water those small “seeds” with practice and experience, his still-small writing skills can grow, grow, and grow like the trees we saw in the forest.

Simple tips to teach this with your kids:

  1. Look for stories that teach this. Fables, parables, stories illustrate this concept better than a singular instance because it can tell the lesson from looking at something from afar. Sometimes we can see lessons for ourselves in the challenges of others. Don’t just stick to winners, stories about losers also teach valuable lessons! When opportunities present themselves – refer back to these stories to drive home the lesson.
  2. Try to create catchphrases to help your kids when they confront obstacles and challenges: “Using energy creates more energy!” and the classic “practice makes perfect!”
  3. Write them down, recite and memorize memorable quotes from authors, thinkers, and sages from different traditions, cultures, and backgrounds. Keep a running list on your phone and write some down and decorate them around your house. Switch them up from time to time. Have challenges or contests to see who can memorize the quotes.

Other interesting resources

  • Dweck, Carol. Mindset. London: Robinson, 2017.
  • Rosemond, John K. Parenting by the Book: Biblical Wisdom for Raising Your Child. New York, NY: Howard Books, 2013.
  • Covey, Sean, and Stacy Curtis. The 7 Habits of Happy Kids. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008.

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