8 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do

How can you help build resilience in your child? Here are 8 things to consider.

Posted May 27, 2020

Mental strength and mental toughness have been well touted in popular culture. However, from a historical and philosophical viewpoint, researchers have been focusing on human strengths and resilience for the last two decades. Psychologists traditionally focused on diagnoses and human weaknesses, but the Positive Psychology movement shifted that focus to the study of human strengths. Research has revealed how resilient and mentally strong people behave in crises such as 9-11 and pandemics, as well as other areas of their lives including parenting.

Mentally strong individuals model both psychological and emotional strength and promote resilience in themselves and their children. Most parents are doing the best they can at any given time with the knowledge, experience, and resources they have at their disposal. However, we tend to gather what we learned in our childhoods and teach it to our children. For example, we may say “I don’t want to be like my mother,” yet discover we are behaving that way with our kids. We also may repeat dysfunctional generational patterns because that is “what we know and what we do." Therefore, it is important to investigate what mentally strong parents do and don’t do.

  1. They don’t overlook, deny, or negate their child’s emotions. Mentally strong parents are acutely aware of the importance of teaching their child an emotional vocabulary. They understand that recognizing and validating their child’s emotions are vital. They understand the delicate balance between validation and dismissing emotions such as “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps." They may reflect feelings often to convey understanding — “you feel sad” or “it made you angry” — and then model effective distress tolerance skills to promote emotion regulation in their children. They also understand that their child is not being a “victim” by expressing emotions and they must be felt in order to be healed. They understand that not relating to their child’s emotions consistently may cause psychological harm which may lead to their own emotional roadblocks in adulthood.
  2. They don’t teach that mistakes are wrong. They understand that “failure” and mistakes are a part of success. They know that to be successful or to learn a skill is a developmental process that takes place over time and that mistakes and failures are part of success. Just as we know and expect our kids to stumble and fall as a process of learning to walk, mentally strong parents expect that mistakes are a part of learning. “Living and learning” philosophy promotes self-efficacy and self-compassion and can serve as a protective factor for perfectionism.
  3. They don’t ignore parent/child boundaries. Mentally strong parents don’t “cave” when their children are upset with them for setting limits. They understand that part of effective parenting is being unpopular at times, which means their children may dissent, be angry, or upset when boundaries are instilled for their greater good. They also understand that boundaries, consistency, routine, and order promote psychological safety in their children.
  4. They don’t ignore the importance of teaching children about relationships. They teach their children both how to interact and about realistic expectations regarding relationships such as marriage and friendships. They teach and model the interpersonal skills necessary for successful relationships such as flexibility, empathy, dependability, etc.
  5. They don’t ignore the importance of emotional and psychological safety. Mentally strong parents understand that their child’s emotional and psychological safety is just as important as their physical safety. They understand that consistent arguments, emotional violence, substance abuse, and untreated parental mental health issues, etc. may have lifetime effects on children.
  6. They don’t expect their children to follow their parents' life dreams. They accept their children as unique individuals who were born to contribute through their own unique gifts and talents. They don’t live vicariously through their children by steering them in trajectories of their own agenda, ignoring the child’s interests or explorations.
  7. They don’t over-function for them. They don’t shield them from painful situations and they don't model co-dependency but autonomy. They know that children must learn to tolerate distress on their own and that “saving” them may just be helping the parent’s discomfort. They help their children navigate the difficult situations so they are able to build autonomy.
  8. They don’t ignore the importance of mentoring and modeling. Mentally strong people intuitively know and acknowledge that their success was derived from mentoring and modeling. It has been modeled for them by peers, mentors, and most importantly by parents and family. They teach, coach, and mentor their children and provide them the best tools possible so they are able to flourish in their own lives.

Originally published on www.drtracyhutchinson.com

Facebook image: fizkes/Shutterstock

References

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Holman, E. A., Garfin, D. R., Lubens, P., & Silver, R. C. (2020). Media Exposure to Collective Trauma, Mental Health, and Functioning: Does It Matter What You See? Clinical Psychological Science, 8(1), 111–124. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702619858300

Lambie J., & Lindberg A. (2016) The Role of Maternal Emotional Validation and Invalidation on Children’s Emotional Awareness. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly: Journal of Developmental Psychology. 62(2):129-157.

Masten, J, Cutuli, J, Marie-Gabrielle, J. Resilience in Development (2009) (Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology) Oxford University Press New York.

Neff, K.  & Pittmann, M. (2010) Self-compassion and Psychological Resilience Among Adolescents and Young Adults, Self and Identity, 9:3, 225-240, DOI: 10.1080/15298860902979307

Sara F. W, Elita A. V, Ross A. T, Sara M, Abigail H. R, Rachel J. (2010).  Emotion Regulation and Attachment: Unpacking Two Constructs and Their Association. Journal of Psychopathology & Behavioral Assessment. (1):37. doi:10.1007/s10862-009-9163-z.

Stuart T. Hauser (1999) Understanding Resilient Outcomes: Adolescent Lives Across Time and Generations, Journal of Research on Adolescence, 9:1, 1-24, DOI: 10.1207/s15327795jra0901_1

Szepsenwol O, Simpson JA, Griskevicius V, Raby KL. (2015). The effect of unpredictable early childhood environments on parenting in adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.;109(6):1045-1067. doi:10.1037/pspi0000032.supp