By Melissa Schoorman, Naomi Linssen and Pat Barbieri
The importance of facing challenges head on is a fundamental theme in our children’s learning journey, particularly from Kindergarten to Year 4. As educators and parents we need to allow for teachable moments which provide opportunities for our children to navigate these pivotal experiences and lessons.
Positive mental health hinges on the balance of protective actions such as providing a stable environment and modelling healthy coping mechanisms vs. risk factors which encourage adversity. Our natural response as parents is to help and protect our children. However, if our children are always saved from dealing with challenging situations or emotions they won’t develop the skills they need to adapt and survive difficulties in later life.
Here are 5 reasons why allowing our children to struggle is important:
- Intellectual growth and development – neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt
- Independence – enhances and promotes their problem solving skills
- Confidence – allows them to attempt new challenges with an open mind and without fear of failure
- Growth mindset – encourages them to embrace struggle instead of fearing it.
- Emotional resilience and perseverance – teaches them not to create unrealistic expectations or the illusion that success is standard and comes easily and without effort
Children are naturally very capable, resilient and adaptable and they will surprise you with their ability to cope with stress if they are given an opportunity to experience and grow through it. Resilient children do not fear failing, think they will get things on the first go or assume tasks will be easy. They learn that with success comes effort, determination and practice.
Pat Barbieri, Director of Toorak College’s Early Learning Centre says, “We encourage parents to celebrate the small wins when a child shows improvement and growth in a certain area. It is this learning process that encourages children to keep trying after they have experienced failure as they grow to understand that success takes time.” Deputy Head of Wardle House, Naomi Linssen adds, “frustration is a critical life skill which helps us to handle hard things, resolve conflict and achieve anything we want to.”
Learning how to accept feelings without judgement, label emotions and embrace uncomfortable situations are all skills that help build a healthy mindset. When your child is experiencing a difficult emotion, show empathy, but refrain from offering a choice of withdrawal from the experience. You want to aim to build tolerance so they go into coping mode rather than meltdown mode.
“If we know how to regulate and manage our emotions, we can afford to sit in periods of discomfort and attempt new tasks or engage in new experiences”, says Melissa Schoorman, Head of Wardle House and Deputy Principal of Toorak College. She adds, “children learn from mistakes as well as from success”.
Avoiding negative experiences or emotions can exacerbate anxiety and heighten emotions. Our natural response is often to take time away from the task or event that is causing this discomfort. However, this strategy can result in a fear of failure which is disproportionate to the experience. Melissa Schoorman says, “We all need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable to allow our children to develop healthy life-long coping skills, however, emotions should not become overwhelming or crippling so please ensure you engage external support if needed.”