Taking on challenges – you are the model!

Teach children ways to handle stress and challenges through your example.

Children can learn how to calm down by watching adults do the same.

Children can learn how to calm down by watching adults do the same.

In the book “Mind in the Making,” author Ellen Galinsky identifies seven life skills she considers important for every child to be well-rounded and reach their full potential. The sixth skill, “taking on challenges,” begins with you – a child’s parent or caregiver.

Life is full of challenges and the stresses that come with them. Many of the stresses adults feel can and will spill over to our children. Children who have been provided with adult role models willing to take on challenges rather than avoiding them or simply finding ways to cope with them will be more successful in school and life.

So how can a parent or caregiver teach ways to deal with stress if they are over-stressed? Being in-tune with the way you react to stress can assist you in teaching children how to handle the many challenges and stressors they may encounter as they grow and develop.

In the RELAX: Alternatives to Anger curriculum, Michigan State University Extension highlights six problem-solving skills that may help you to help teach your children healthy ways to take on challenges.

  1. Identify the challenge/problem. Sometimes just admitting you are challenged is a good start. “I am so frustrated with the big mess in this room. I need to find a better way to organize all of this stuff.” Small children will learn how to state what a challenge is and be better able to make steps for handling the issue.
  2. Stay cool. Remember you are the adult and little eyes are watching everything you do and will become a copy-cat for your actions. “I had better take a minute to calm down before I try to figure out how we can handle this mess and a find a way to stay more organized.”
  3. Don’t take it personally. The mess in the room wasn’t put there intentionally to upset you. Stuff happens in busy households. Reminding yourself of that fact can help clear your head for the steps you may need to take to handle this challenge. When we begin the blame-game, children soon learn that it is easy to blame someone else for something rather than to explore solutions.
  4. Listen. Use your listening skills to better understand how this happened so you can work on ways to solve the problem. Listening skills can be taught and involve many other important life skills. If you are doing all the talking, it is difficult to listen to others who may be involved.
  5. Think of solutions. You don’t need to solve everything on your own. Ask for the input of others. When you ask others for their opinion or assistance, you are teaching children how to utilize outside resources when they are faced with a challenge. Children will need to rely on many people in their lives as they grow and face bigger challenges in school and life.
  6. Follow up. This step is often neglected and is an important one in learning how to handle other challenges in life. “So, how did we do?” “Do you think we handled the challenge of the playroom mess easily or could we have tried something else?” “How do you feel about our plan for handling messes in the future?”

Sharing a personal story with your child about how you have faced a challenge is one way to teach children even adults have challenges in their lives. You might read a bedtime story together where the main character faces a challenge. Talk about the problem and ask questions about how your child might have handled the issue. Explore one of these titles to begin your conversation: “Shhh! We Have a Plan” (ages 2-5), “Llama llama and the Bully Goat” (ages 3-6) or “Alexander, Who’s Trying His Best to Be the Best Boy Ever” (ages 4-7). Check with your local library for others that may assist you in teaching the important life skill of “taking on challenges.”

For more on information caregiving or family issues that affect you and your family, visit the MSU Extension and eXtension websites. To contact an expert in your area, visit MSU Extension’s Find an Expert or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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