Forget resilience, what our kids need is mental toughness

Kinderling News & Features

A parent’s role is to bring up their child so they can face the big bad world as an adult, and not crumble into a million pieces. Because let’s be honest, sometimes things are grim out there. 

Neils VanHove is a mental coach and author of My Strong Mind for Children. He’s championing a new approach to building your kids up - mental toughness. 

What is mental toughness?

“[Mental toughness is] a combination of resilience, but also curiosity and drive for personal growth and confidence in your own abilities and interaction with people. So, where resilience is reactive, you bounce back, mental toughness has a proactive component to it as well, where you seek growth,” Neils explains. 

It originated in sport

Believe it or not, tennis was the first sport that this sort of approach was used in 30 years ago, as part of sport psychology. 

“Over the last two years [it] has been more recognised that it can be applied to everyday life to improve performance and mental health for both adults and children,” Neils says. 

To thrive, you must have purpose

“One of the biggest components of both resilience and mental toughness is having meaning, having a purpose,” Neils notes.

If you’re an elite athlete, and your whole life has been one sport, once that falls away, your purpose in life falls away with it. If you’re not prepared for that, you’ll struggle, which is what you can often see in retired sportspeople.

Everyone needs coaching

Neils believes that everyone needs help with mental toughness. “It's important to note the opposite of mental toughness is not mental weakness, but mental sensitivity,” he says. “There are four elements of mental toughness; commitment, emotional control, challenge and confidence.” 

If you notice your child has a lack of emotional control or a lack of commitment, you can coach them a little bit in those areas, which is what Neils’ book deals with. 

He says that one of the most important parts of mental toughness is the challenge, so as a parent, try to support your child in getting outside their comfort zone. 

Really encourage them to pick up new things and promote their efforts in that. Tell them it's okay to have these feelings of fear and failure. and have a conversation about that. You need fail to become better at something and so you need to deal with those negative emotions.”