The importance of taking on challenges for young children

Dealing with challenges is an essential life skill. Learn why it is so important and how you can help young children learn and practice these skills.

Adults can help support children in learning to deal with life's challenges.
Adults can help support children in learning to deal with life's challenges.

Life is full of challenges, so how can we help prepare children to take on those challenges and succeed? In her book, “Mind in the Making: The seven essential life skills every child needs,” author Ellen Galinsky describes how adults can help support children in learning to deal with life’s challenges.

Adults who have a relationship of trust with their children are in the perfect position to be both a source of comfort and support as well a source of knowledge in teaching their children how to manage life’s stressors and get through challenges. The presence of a supportive adult helps children manage the stress that accompanies challenging situations and helps them learn specific methods or ways of dealing with the stress and provides opportunities to learn and grow.

Supporting the development of taking on challenges

Michigan State University Extension has some tips on helping your child learn to deal with challenges.

  • Set a good example. Model healthy and appropriate ways to manage stress. It’s OK to share your mistakes of stress with children when it is appropriate. Tell them how you are going to manage that stress, “I am going to go for a short walk and then come back and talk about this,” or “I am going to take a few deep breaths before I try to solve this problem.”
  • Expose them to stress in small appropriate doses. If you protect your child from every stressful situation, then they miss out on opportunities to learn how to effectively deal with stressors. As they grow into adulthood they will be faced with stress that you cannot prevent or mediate. Help them be prepared to deal with this stress by helping them practice on smaller, less important situations now.
  • Be your child’s stress buffer. Children who have a steady, warm and trusting relationship with at least one adult are better equipped to manage stressful situations. You can help your child deal with challenges by being present, engaged and remaining a constant source of support for your child.
  • Allow and promote risk-taking. It’s temping as parents and caregivers to protect children from every potentially stressful or risky situation. Just like a toddler learning to walk, they have to fall and bump into a few things before they get it right. Allow your child to take small risks and help them figure out how to manage whatever happens next.
  • Allow your child to manage their own stress. When you give children tools, methods and space to practice their own stress management, they will not only feel like they have control over the stresses in their life, but they will be able to find methods of stress management that work well for them. You can give your child ideas about ways to manage their stress and encourage them to utilize them, but make sure you provide plenty of opportunities for children to work out their issues with some independence.
  • Teach your child a “growth mindset.” Failure is often seen as the worst-case scenario and something to be ashamed of. But failure is a natural and necessary part of life. Help your child learn to deal with challenges and failures by encouraging them to adopt a growth mindset and teach them to see failures as opportunities to learn, grow and do things differently next time.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the MSU Extension website.

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