Leading My Kids to Be Mentally Tough Without Breaking Their Spirit

One of my parenting goals is to raise my kids to be tough-minded. Life is hard and one factor to living a good life is having mental toughness, grit, to get you through the hard times.

I don’t think mental toughness is just an innate personality trait. I think it can be developed.

Of course, doing it wrong could wound your kids. Too much roughness without balancing it with softness could be a bad thing for them.

So, here’s my approach to develop mental toughness in my kids without breaking their spirit.

Encouragement – My kids know their parents are their biggest fans, believers, and supporters. We don’t tell them “you can do anything,” because that’s not true and sets them up for disappointment when they find out that they, in fact, can’t do anything. We *do* tell them they are capable and smart. Most importantly, we repeat one phrase super often…”You can do hard things.”

Tempered praise – Unrestricted praise of children is not good. My kids hear “great job, bud” from me almost every day. But they do not receive gushing, over-the-top praise when they do something well. Why? Because that’s not going to happen in adulthood. Their boss will not throw a party when they mark a task off their todo list, so don’t set that expectation in childhood.

Consistent discipline – We are a household that disciplines. That means we use a mixture of timeouts, restrictions, and spanking. But discipline alone isn’t enough; it has to be consistent. If you threaten to take away a toy, you’ve got to follow through. If an infraction gets a spanking one day and a timeout another day, your kid won’t be able to match behavior to consequences, which is exactly what discipline is supposed to do.

Accountability – One thing I’ve noticed is that, with the onset of ever-present phones, kids are getting away with more nominally bad behavior because their parents just aren’t paying attention. Without paying attention, you can’t hold your kids accountable to behavioral expectations. When they grow up, they will be blind-sided by the level of accountability in adulthood.

Grace – Maintaining consistent discipline does not mean having a household devoid of grace. Grace doesn’t mean withholding discipline. Grace, in our household, means unfettered affection, love, and belonging despite any level of poor behavior. If a kid lights the house on fire, they’ll experience consequences, but they’ll never feel like they are on the “outside” or that their relationship with their parents is damaged.

Over-the-top affection – We are always careful to be tempered in our discipline and our praise of our kids. However, there is one area where we never hold back: affection. Most parents, I think, are good at showing affection to their kids. It comes easy. Those stinking kids are so freaking precious! Just keep pouring it on. There’s no such thing as too much love in a home.