Toughening up a child sounds good in theory, but not in practice. Here is why and what you can do instead to raise strong, resilient children.
Should You Toughen Up A Child
A study was performed in Israel where 18-year-old men must serve in mandatory military service. It was found that male adolescents who grew up in a non-nurturing environment coped and adapted worse in the tough military scenery than those who grew up in a nurturing household (Mayseless, et al., 2003).
– Turning Tantrums Into Triumphs
Why Do Parents Want To Toughen Up Their Kids
We like the word “tough” because it sounds, well, tough.
From grade school, we learn that the opposite of tough is fragile or weak.
No one likes to be fragile or weak.
So we want to be tough.
We want to use tough love parenting because it sounds like it should make our children tough.
Toughening up children make them strong. Makes sense, right?
What Is Tough
Physically, one can become tough by doing exercises such as weightlifting.
You start with 5 pounds or 10 pounds.
Then 20 pounds, 30 pounds and gradually increase to build up your muscle strengths.
You don’t start with the 100 pound or a weight you cannot withstand at first.
You don’t ask someone to throw a 100 pound weight at you.
You also don’t want someone to be mean to you for not being able to lift 100 pound on the first day.
As you lift heavier and heavier weights, you want encouragement and recognition along the way.
Physical toughness is about diligently practicing, building up tolerance and increasing muscle strength to lift heavy weights.
How To Toughen Up A Child
Here, we are not talking about weightlifting any more, but the principle still applies.
You start with something small, something the child can handle.
Then you gradually increase the level of difficulty.
Over time, they struggle less, build up higher tolerance to adversities, get back up after failure and attain greater ability to solve problems even in harsh situations.
True toughening is
- letting children struggle at times when they can reasonably handle a situation themselves instead of swooping in and doing it for them,
teaching children how to handle more and more difficult situations and allowing them to practice in a safe environment,
being supportive when their children fail and cheer them on as they overcome one difficulty after another in life.
Unfortunately, most parents do not toughen up a child this way.
When parents say tough love, they usually mean
they will push a child into difficult situations whether the child is developmentally ready to handle it or not,
they are unkind if the child fails,
they are callous towards the child’s suffering,
they are rude towards their child or don’t treat them with respect, and
they believe being nurturing and supportive will make the child weak.
There is no LOVE in that kind of tough love.
Why Do Parents Toughen Children This Way
Sometimes, it’s because we have this image of buff guy walking around being loud, is never defeated and seems “tough” on the outside, as portrayed in silly movies.
Sometimes, it’s because we think we’re offering practice for our children as they will eventually encounter plenty of cruelty and harshness in the real world.
We want to expose our children to that kind of environment now so that they won’t be unprepared.
The intention is good although the method is wrong.
But sometimes, it’s because parents don’t want to respect or be nice to their children and use “toughening” as an excuse.
These are usually mean people to begin with.
They can be nice to other grownups for the most part, but they are very capable of being mean if they don’t like you, even if you’re a grownup.
Toughening up their children is usually not the real intention for these people.
So, parents toughen for various reasons, some good but some not so good.
What Is Real Toughness
Real toughness is having the tenacity and the strong will to overcome adversities, AND *the ability to still be kind and caring in the face of hardship*.
True toughness is being strong inside, not being mean outside.
That should be the kind of toughness we want our children to develop.
As shown in research mentioned above, toughening up a child cannot make them tough.
Being nurturing and supportive can.
A firm and kind parent can raise a much stronger child than a mean and cruel parent can.
Don’t Toughen Up A Child
This is why I don’t toughen up my child.
I don’t want my child to be tough outside as portrayed by the media.
I want my child to be strong inside, be the true kind of tough and be resilient.