Doing hard things is well… hard. And none of us ENJOY doing things that are frustrating and hard. But I think deep down we know the value in doing hard things. My good friend introduced me to the quote “I can do hard things” several years ago and now I see printables and cute signs with this saying everywhere. I love it. It is so simple, yet so powerful. What if we all believed that we truly can do hard things? What if our KIDS believed that THEY could do hard things!? How different would attitudes be? In my own household, I know that this single belief would benefit the overall feeling and attitude in our home.
I have one son who is showing very little confidence even at a young age. Which baffles me. Before having my own children, I would have sworn that all kids were confident in themselves and their skills. We’ve all seen a kid say, “watch me!” as they jump over a crack and truly believe that they are the greatest things since sliced bread. Now that I have my own children, I know that there is plenty of that kind of confidence going on, but there is also a lack of the belief that they can do hard things. Since my kids were young, one of my top parenting goals has been to instill a sense of self-confidence in my children. I’m learning that this is harder than I first imagined… but “I can do hard things!”
So how do we teach our children that they can do hard things and in turn, boost their confidence levels? In a world that works incredibly hard at making things easy, this can be a difficult task. I know that there are many times that I have bailed my kids out of hard situations, which is exactly the opposite of what I should do:
-Times that I have taken them a lunch at school when it was forgotten on the counter.
– How many meals have I prepared completely alone simply because it’s easier on me to do it alone, rather than have them in the kitchen helping me and learning how to cook?
-Clean the house and do chores on my own because it is easier and will get done better if I just do it myself.
-Let my kids quite piano lessons and swim team.
I’m sure there are many other examples of ways that I have enabled my children and robbed them of the opportunity to do hard things. So how can we encourage them to do hard things?
1. Tell them they can. “I can do hard things” should be a mantra in every home and should be repeated over and over again. The kids should want to slap us in the face because we remind them of this so often! This is one declaration that can be fitting in every home and family situation. It applies to all of us. There is power in saying something out-loud, so say it and say it often. There are tons of printables out there, so find one you like and have it hanging on your wall. Here is my printable.
2. Let kids fail. This is one of the hardest things for me to do (good thing that I can do hard things, right!?). In many of the parenting books I’ve read, I have learned that it is good for parents to stand back and let kids fail as they are growing up. Even if what they are failing at may seem like a big deal at the time. If we let kids fail while they are young and the risk is low, then they can hopefully learn and not repeat that mistake when they are older and the risk is higher. For example, if we repeatedly bring their homework to them because they left it sitting on their bed when they are in elementary, middle and high school; what is going to happen when they are in college and forget to turn in assignments on time? The consequences of missing a deadline in college are much greater than the consequences in K-12 school. If we see their homework sitting on their bed in 5th grade, we should simply leave it there. Sure our little sweetie might miss recess that day, but isn’t that a good lesson for them to learn to be more responsible? I have yet to master this parenting technique, but I do understand it’s value and I’m working on it.
3. Let kids lose. What!?? This is practically child abuse in today’s world of “everyone gets a medal,” right? Most of us have probably witnessed the tantrum of a child that has lost at something. It’s not pretty. Unfortunately, losing is part of life. We can’t win them all, so we must learn to lose and lose with dignity. It is hard to lose and it’s often easier to let kids win if you have that control of the situation, but it is not helpful in teaching them that they can do hard things! My husband is the best at this. He does not let the kids win at any type of competition they are doing: basketball, board games, football, wrestling, or knowledge of random facts. Most of the time the kids handle this just fine, but there have been tears over losing and he just tells them to buck up. Mom’s are not always as good at this one. Letting kids lose and teaching them how to do it without being a poor sport is tough and never-ending, but it can teach them that they can do hard things.
4. Let kids struggle. This one is most obvious on homework in our home. Kids figure out quickly that it’s easier to say, “I don’t get it” and then zone out as parents try to explain how to do it and wait for the answer. This one is hard for me too to not rush in with an explanation. I’ve found that I do better if I am busy with a task or walk out of the room while they are doing homework so that I’m less inclined to jump in and help at the first sign of stress. Kids need to struggle to figure out a solution. Sometimes the answer isn’t clear or easy and they just need time to work through it. Sit back, remind them that they can do hard things and see what happens.
5. Don’t solve every problem. I tend to be a problem solver. I like to have the answer for everything, but I can see that this does not encourage kids to do hard things. Last night one son was crying and devastated because the other kids were singing along to The Greatest Showman soundtrack. He said it “hurt his feelings when they sang.” I was truly speechless. This was one problem I didn’t know how to solve, so I told him, “well, you can’t make people stop singing, so I’m not sure what to tell you. You are smart and I’m sure you’ll think of someway to solve your problem.” I let him know that I would love to hear what he comes up with. That situation was easy to not resolve, because it was so ‘out there.’ But other problems, like fights with friends for example can be harder to sit back and watch when you know darn well how to fix that problem. Too many times parents step in and try to protect their kid if they believe there is injustice going on, but it is not always helpful for the child. Sure that one problem might get fix, but what about the next and the next. Parents will not always be around to tell the other kid to knock it off. When my daughter is having friend issues, sometimes I tell her a story about a similar situation that happened to me with my friends and how I dealt with it. Or I ask her for her ideas on how to resolve the problem. She usually has good ideas on her own. I have a feeling that this in only going to get harder as a parent as kids get older and problems get worse. But I can do hard things!
6. Give kids responsibility. When they have tasks that they are responsible for they are given the chance to prove to themselves that they can do hard things. Consequences for not doing their responsibilities should be defined and followed through on. As they carry out their responsibility, you can praise them and point out how well they did that hard thing. Household chores are a simple way to do this one. Even the chores that you want done well… let them learn.
7. Remind kids of the times that they have done hard things. Simply pointing out that they’ve done it before can be encouragement that they can do it again. Share your own stories about when you’ve done hard things. Keep these conversations going all the time.
8. Family challenges. Organizing a family challenge is a fun way to show kids that they can do hard things. It might be something like a breakout room (I haven’t tried these yet, but if I understand them right, it would be a good way to do something hard together), or a ropes course. I’ve seen more and more of these lately where you complete a challenging obstacle course together as a team. Another idea might be to set a difficult reading goal, memorize a quote, compete in a race, or any other type of competition your family might enjoy that provides a challenge for the family to overcome.
9. Develop new talents. I instantly think of piano lessons for this one. Why do we all think we must torture our children with piano lessons? I don’t know why we do it, but it is a great way for them to learn that they can do hard things! This is true for any new skill or talent they are developing. It is hard to learn new things, but they can do it. Find an activity that your child finds interesting and let them take lessons and work through the hard beginning phases. Parents can set the example for this by learning new things as well and sharing their experiences with their kids.
10. Write it out. There is something therapeutic about writing something down. It might be fun to have a family journal where everyone writes about the times they did something hard. If it’s too personal to be shared with the whole family, then encourage kids to write in a personal journal. Writing it down, just seems to make it more real and tangible. It can solidify to the child that they really did do a hard thing and then reflect on how that makes them a stronger individual.
I recently listened to this talk about “hard is good.” I do believe that doing hard things is good for all of us, even our children. I am trying to focus more on facing the hard things rather than avoiding them. I hope that I can be more deliberate in encouraging my kids to do hard things and that it can (eventually) help us all to be nice and happy!