Through different stages in life, we will all face struggles. We mustn’t remove struggles completely as this helps to build character, empathy and resilience. However, it can also be overwhelming to ask a person to “get through it” by themselves. This also applies in a parent and child dynamic. Here are six ways to encourage children when they are struggling.
Encouraging Children When They Are Struggling
1. Listen and Empathize
Sometimes holding space is the biggest encouragement that one can receive. Validate your child’s feelings even if the problem seems small to you. Empathetic responses can sound like: “You seem frustrated. I can imagine that this isn’t easy, but I’m here for you.” Or “What you are feeling is valid. Let’s talk through this together?”
Practise listening when your child vents to you about a problem. If needed, take deep breaths when fighting the urge to jump in with solutions. Asking “What do you need from me?” tells your child that you are there for them as a supporting role and gives them ownership and agency.
Provide choices, such as, “Would you like to keep trying, take a break, or ask for help?” and ask your child open-ended questions such as, “How do you think you can solve this?” or, “What solutions have you tried? What else could you try?” Brainstorm together, but let your child take the lead. Don’t push an agenda.
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If your child is truly stuck, you can try prompting with questions like, “What do you think would happen if you tried ________?”
2. Lead by example
Children model the behaviours that they see around them. When you encounter challenges yourself, model the same language and attitude you’d like to see from your child.
Try actively using phrases such as “This is hard. I need a break,” or, “This is hard but I’m going to keep trying.” When facing your own struggles. You may also say, “This is hard. I’m going to ask for help. Do you have any input?” These strategies teach children to accept that sometimes things are hard, sometimes we get frustrated, and that’s OK and it’s alright to seek help.
3. Build Up Confidence
Some ways to boost your child’s feelings of confidence and capability is by allowing them to do age-appropriate tasks on their own. This may include getting dressed, picking up toys, preparing foods like cereal or toast, making the bed, or other chores, depending on your child’s age.
Although it might be faster for us to do these tasks ourselves, being patient and letting your child master these skills independently shows them that they can do hard things.
4. Remind them of past accomplishments
When we face struggles, sometimes it’s hard to see that the struggle that we are in is a variation of a challenge already overcome. As parents, instead of getting frustrated that your kid seems to be struggling with a simple task, you can remind them of previous obstacles they’ve overcome and problems they have solved before.
You can also talk to your child about times you have struggled and been rewarded in the end. Remind your child that everyone struggles. It is natural, normal, and even good! With struggle comes growth.
When your child does succeed, reinforce the experience with statements like, “You did it! You kept trying and you ___________!” Talk about the pride, joy, or relief they feel, and mention the conversation the next time your child faces a tough task.
5. Teach problem-solving skills
Giving kids a structure to evaluate the situation on their own is a powerful skill to encourage them. A popular five-step process looks like this:
Step 1: Ask What am I feeling?
Help your child label how they feel about the situation. Validating one’s feelings and then taking a step back allows them to focus on the bigger picture.
Step 2: What’s the problem?
Ask your child to describe the problem. In most cases, ensure that your child is taking responsibility for their role, rather than pointing fingers.
Step 3: What are the solutions?
Brainstorm potential solutions. They don’t have to be “good” ideas, but active thinking is important.
Step 4: What would happen if…?
Discuss what might happen if your child tried each solution. Roleplaying might also be appropriate at this step. Is the solution safe? Is it fair? Is it kind to others?
Step 5: What will I try?
Have your child choose one solution to try. If it doesn’t work, discuss WHY and choose another. Encourage your child to keep trying until the problem is solved.
Know when to step in
Not all situations are age-appropriate for kids to problem solve on their own, and that is when parents should step in. This is important if:
- There is a safety concern
- Your child is frustrated with a task that is not developmentally appropriate.
- There are skills that need to be learned before your child can succeed at the task.
- Your child has tried multiple strategies and persevered, but is still struggling. In this case, offer guidance and help. Then, discuss what your child learned and praise the effort/progress.
- It’s not easy to see our loved one’s struggle and unfortunately, the only way for kids to learn resilience is to go through struggles. But the best thing we can do as parents or guardians is to encourage them and go through these tough times together.