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Raising Mentally Strong Kids: 13 Tips for Moms From Real Therapists

Moms are constantly under pressure to do all the right things–including teaching a tiny little human everything they need to know. But if you’ve never raised a kid before, how do you know what’s right and what’s wrong? How do you make sure you’re setting them up for success and teaching them the right things?

You can relax. It’s completely normal not to have all the answers. Many moms just like you are only wanting the best for their little ones. And we understand this constant pressure. So we talked with two well-known therapists and got the best tips on how moms can raise mentally strong kids. Let’s get into it. 

1. Stress the Positive

Laurie Singer, MS, LMFT, BCBA, a licensed marriage and family therapist and board-certified behavior analyst in Camarillo, California, suggests having at least two positive interactions with your child for every non-positive comment. “Instead of saying ‘no’, ‘don’t’ or ‘stop’ (unless it’s clearly behavior that puts you, your child or someone else at risk) try to be a good listener and work towards finding positive praise.” 

Praising the positive behavior you want to see more of and ignoring the negative behavior is the goal. You want to take as much focus off the unwanted behavior as you can. “So if a child is complaining about brushing their teeth, we want to praise them when they do,” says Singer.

2. Use Natural and Logical Consequences

Consequences show respect for both you and your child–and should ultimately fit the behavior. Meagan Turner MA, APC, NCC, a therapist in Atlanta, Georgia, explains that natural consequences are the natural result of a child’s actions. In contrast, logical consequences are ones thought up by the parents. “If your child chooses to leave a toy outside and the rain destroys it, that is a natural consequence. If your child chooses to ride their bike without a helmet, taking away the bike for the day is a logical consequence,” says Turner. Both consequence types help show your child that certain actions have different consequences. 

3. Instill Resilience and Teach Problem-Solving Skills

Allow your child to face problems head-on, but also be there to help brainstorm good decisions and solutions when they need it. “Ultimately, help your child come up with choices that are appropriate and let them determine what to do,” notes Turner. Doing this will help them get past mental barriers and build their problem-solving skills until they can master them over time.

4. Teach Your Child How To Identify Their Strong Emotions 

Babies communicate by crying. It’s the only way they know how to get what they want. Hungry? Cry. Wet diaper? Cry. Want mom? Cry. So as your child begins to grow, it’s only natural that they will still rely on the communication skill of crying to get their needs met, until they learn differently. But often with toddlers and older children, crying can turn into frustration, anger, throwing objects and hitting.

“Typically, anger is something that builds and often something we can get in front of,” says Singer. “Our role is to try to catch the child before they become angry. Let them know you recognize they’re frustrated and practice some calming techniques which can include things like listening to calming music, making art, doing animal sounds or something physical.” It’s also important to experiment and practice calming techniques when your child is not frustrated. This will help them become confident in this skill when they need it.

5. Teach Through Actions

Encourage autonomy and responsibility by acting in ways you want your child to mirror. Turner says that “Responsibility is caught, not taught.” Children watch your every move. You can’t expect them to hang their coat up nicely in the closet if you leave yours on the floor. Also, be sure that you are offering your child age-appropriate duties to be responsible. They need to practice this skill for their own personal growth and emotional development.

6. Instruct Calming Strategies

Teaching self-calming skills is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your child–especially if they have lots of anxiety. The most popular method? Teaching your child how to stop and take a deep breath during mental blocks. “I like to use the model of ‘smell the flower and blow out the candle.’ Do this at least 3 times or until the child is calm,” says Singer. Calming techniques are something your child will use for the rest of their life–teaching them when and how to use this skill will help set them up to be mentally strong.

7. Have Fun Together

Spending time with your little ones will do wonders for their mental health. It’s important that parents spend at least 30 minutes each week with their child doing something their child chooses. “During that 30 minutes, the parent gives their full, undivided attention to the child and their chosen activity in order to build fun into their routine,” notes Turner. 

8. End on a Good Note

Don’t forget this key step in your child’s bedtime routine. Singer suggests naming one positive thing your child did that day when laying them down to bed. “Even if your child had several tantrums, noncompliance, or aggressive acts, find the positive.” Your little one will go to sleep focusing on what they did well that day and will want to repeat it again tomorrow. Praising the positive and ignoring the negative–when appropriate–encourages more positive behavior.

9. Listen Well

Turner also suggests to “Reflect what you hear your child saying, and use empathy when responding to them.” Kids are like sponges soaking in everything from their surroundings and copying what they see. If you effectively communicate and listen to them, they will more than likely mirror you and practice those skills right back.

10. Be Consistent 

Parenting the right way is often delayed gratification. But children thrive in a consistent environment. And as hard as it can be at times, staying consistent is crucial in their development. “Children feel more secure when they know what the consequences will be for specific behaviors,” notes Singer. Give consistent appropriate consequences and praise as they happen.

In regards to verbal praise, it’s critical to praise immediately after a desired behavior occurs. This will help the behavior stick. “I suggest stating the child’s name, name the specific behavior, and then offer praise,” says Singer. When your child is learning positive behaviors, you want to let them know you are paying attention. 

Singer gives some examples of positive behavior praise: 

  • “Janie, good job using your words and taking a deep breath. You’re doing a fantastic job using your strategies, way to go!”
  • “Mark, I was so proud seeing you take a deep breath when that boy was behaving badly towards you. You handled it perfectly. Great job!” 

11. Don’t Be Overly Shielding

We know you just want the best for your children. But overprotecting and shielding kids from failures can actually hinder their development. “It is difficult to develop mental fortitude when you are never given the opportunity to learn from mistakes,” says Turner. The stepping stone to raising mentally strong kids is giving them the skills and opportunities to learn how to make the right decisions. And sometimes that means biting your tongue while watching them make mistakes. Don’t worry, they will eventually learn.

12. Don’t Take Behavior at Face Value

Kids aren’t destructive or act out for no reason. There’s usually something bigger happening. “Tune in with them to see what’s going on underneath the behaviors rather than ignoring or dismissing their emotions,” suggests Turner. Behavior is communication. Sometimes it just takes a little more effort to see what’s trying to be communicated. By working with them to uncover the deeper issue, you are teaching them to look inward when upset and work towards a solution.

13. Get on the Same Page

Raising children is a team effort–whether it’s with your partner, childcare provider, family, or friends. And when it comes to consequences and praise, all the adults in your child’s life should be on the same page. 

Singer recommends that parents shouldn’t hesitate to let other adults around them know that they’re working on building core skills with their child and or lay out specific behaviors they’re trying to encourage or discourage. “And ask for their respect, or even help, as parents,” emphasized Singer.

Remember, You’re Not Alone

Figuring out how to raise mentally strong kids when you’re a new mom can feel like throwing darts in the dark. “Asking for advice from other parents, who may be going through similar things, doesn’t mean they aren’t a good parent. It means they want to be better parents and do the best they can for their child,” says Singer.

If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. And if you need a reminder on how to raise mentally strong kids, bookmark this page so you can always come back to it later. It’s all part of the learning process. You’ve got this, we’re rooting for you.

Experts in this article:

Laurie Singer, MS, LMFT, BCBA, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and board-certified behavior analyst in Camarillo, California. She has been in practice for over 28 years and works to help kids, teens and adults overcome thoughts, feelings and behaviors that keep them from living their best lives.

Meagan Turner, MA, APC, NCC, is a therapist in Atlanta, Georgia, who specializes in working with adolescents and collaborating with their parents.