I do not claim to be the poster child for tough. Tough is not a word I heard very often growing up, but I can say with confidence that a lot of things have tumbled into my path that my upbringing prepared me for – a realization I did not have until I saw how challenging some of the same things were for other people. I was raised by two very resilient people, and grew up alongside some incredibly strong people who were also raised by resilient people. There are a lot of similarities between upbringings of the people I admire as emotionally, physically, and spiritually tough.
Five Ways Parents Can Raise Tough Kids
They Start Young
In the wake of stumbles and spills, my parents did not gasp, or lunge for the band aids. I have vivid memories of my dad yelling “safe!” when we took tough falls as little ones. I’ve seen the way it worked with me, and the way it works with the kiddos I have babysat throughout the years. I knew before I knew what the words meant that falling and failing was not the way to get attention or care. And I still do – I’m always safe, and I can always stand back up.
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They Pick Their Battles
My parents did a pretty killer job of deciding which of my battles were mine, and which of my battles were theirs AND mine. The former was more frequent. While I was never left to fend for myself without support and advice, my mother was never going to charge into the principal’s office in defense of her little angel. I grew up (as everyone does) with parents and teachers and peers who challenged me in ways that were often more than I could handle. Until I had to handle it, and then I did.
Parents have a funny way of knowing where that line lies. While researching the kinds of skills the one-year old who I nanny should be practicing at this age, I read a line that said “do not do anything for a kid that they can do themselves, and NEVER do something for a kid that they can almost do themselves.” I fought with bullies, bad grades, sexism, and inconvenience from the front lines, and that’s the way I’ll do it for the rest of my life.
They Praise Selectively, and Punish That Way
We are told that we are a participation trophy generation, and I don’t disagree. But in a world where fewer and people are showing up to do anything helpful at all, and we are increasingly disconnected and distanced from one another, there are days and times where everyone needs a little credit for being present in any way, shape or form. Those days are not always.
But for my 7th grade sister who came in dead last in almost every cross-country race and ran again the next year, you better believe parental praise was loud. When I, an academic slacker in high school, made the Dean’s List my freshman year of college, I was sent a Teddy Bear and candy. My sister would graduate from Harvard with honors later that year, but no bear for her. Not because they weren’t proud, but because it wasn’t the point. Our parents know a lot about what scares us, and challenges us, and makes us feel like successes. They know best when to praise and reward individual behaviors.
They Lead By Example (i.e. are badasses)
I did not have to hear from my parents that it is okay to start a business or abandon the easy route or move far away from home without knowing anyone, because I saw it. I watched two people, who didn’t stop being people to be parents, continue to grow and learn and try and fail. In their 50’s and 60’s, my parents are the ones calling me to share quips from their first day at the new job, coffee with a new friend, or thrill of a new accomplishment. My kitchen table was home to far fewer rousing speeches than informative stories. Being shown and not told was a lot easier to absorb. Especially since I was probably only sort of paying attention.
They Don’t Ask For Tough
My sister and I cry at just about everything on the internet. I had to excuse myself at a restaurant the other day because I became incredibly emotional thinking about a time my dad and I got corn dog nuggets on Thanksgiving Day at Disney World. I have never been told to stop crying. I have never been told to suck it up. I have never been told that my frustration or feeling is invalid. Because of this, I have gradually made my own emotional rules – rules that are not based on a negative memory, or a way I have been taught to behave or not behave. I ran a half marathon six weeks after surgery, and I tear up every time I watch an Olympian on the podium.
I’m grateful that I was taught to read, tie my shoes, ride a bike, and parallel park (kind of), but there is no training for roommate fights, bad breakups, and job rejection. When those times come, I’m glad I have tough – a breed of tough that comes covered in empathy, forgiveness, and the knowledge that people have seen and survived far worse. I am tough, was raised by tough, and cannot thank my parents enough for the things they taught me every time I skinned my knees.