Teach children to value growth and learning over avoidance of stress – Saratogian
Last week, we discussed the devastating nature of avoidance-based motivation, or what is known as a “walk away from” approach.
In this motivational model, we seek to avoid future anxiety and tend to make decisions based on avoidance rather than growth. It is a fear-based choice, and the focus is on finding comfort or ease in avoiding anticipated stress in the future. This approach inevitably leaves us “playing small” in life.
In today’s article, we will discuss essential parenting keys to developing evolutionary strategies, where children value growth, learning, and personal development over ease. This approach tends to be aligned with resilience and perseverance in pursuit of personal goals and dreams. More importantly, the reaching out approach keeps our minds focused on what we want, rather than worrying about trying to avoid what we don’t want.
Let’s go over some parenting basics to help your children develop these resilient, easier, yet more productive strategies.
1 — Parents should model behavior that seeks growth rather than comfort.
Of utmost importance in teaching any lesson is to begin with a long, hard look in the mirror. What do you model for your children? If you’re absorbed in avoiding anxiety and stress, that’s where you start. It’s hard to fake this stuff, and most kids come to know your vulnerabilities. If you focus on avoiding anxiety, anxiety is always front and center…and what you focus on must expand. Then, anxiety and fear probably abound in life.
Remember: it starts and ends with what you focus on. Don’t complicate this too much. Find something that excites you MORE than the fear of anxiety or stress. Think about what you want rather than what you don’t want. Focus there and keep your focus there.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. It is a given. However, the facts do not change. You are the most important influence here, and the goal is to lead the way to a better life.
If you’re not looking for learning and growth as your first job, consider becoming a growth seeker and be open to challenges…so you can talk about it with your kids. If you can, tell personal stories of using your strength and determination to achieve your goals, even though you know stressful times will arise. They’ll learn more from these honest discussions about overcoming challenges than from reading a dozen books on motivation.
2 – Directly teach children what to focus on
We do this by helping direct our children’s attention. With many academic duties, as well as athletics, we have options in how we communicate. We can draw their attention to mistakes they make, errors made or problems with their performance. We can discuss the mistakes of the other team, the problems with the teachers or the unfairness of the current system. It’s an approach, and it tends to make kids anxious and fearful rather than empowered.
Another option is to focus much more energy on effort and success. Highlight the growth made each day and the effort behind it. Celebrate the effort. And in particular, celebrate inspired effort that seems to come with natural ease and is not experienced as stressful effort.
Also talk about the positive impact of their efforts. Problems are never overlooked, but the emphasis is on growth and effort.
3 – Avoid feeding anxiety when it arises
There will be times of anxiety and stress. Again, it’s unavoidable. So what are you doing?
First, it’s not the end of the world. Stay calm and affirm that it’s natural. Second, assure your child that this too will pass. Third, avoid labeling it as a thing. Instead, explain it as a natural process that occurs when stressful thoughts arise. Then affirm that “This too shall pass. You will overcome this.”
And finally, turn the attention to the good effort, the powerful learnings that might occur, and the positive results. Don’t dwell on the anxious or stressful conversation.
If they persist in the anxious dialogue, walk away. To get away.
Don’t try to fix it again and again. Don’t fight to make him feel better if he wants to focus on the source of his stress or anxiety. There is no value there
4 – Don’t let them repeatedly avoid discomfort
The biggest mistake we can make is to start giving in to their desire to avoid something based on avoiding future anxiety. It usually starts with small things, like wanting to skip a workout or having excuses for not having friends. You will know in your heart that it is more about their fears and worries than any real threat.
In these times, a strong and loving path is needed. Just let them know, “I understand. But you’ll be fine… and you’ll go. Ultimately, this decision is far superior to teaching them to avoid a challenge by running away from discomfort.
Put them together and you will profoundly affect their fate. Moving towards opportunity and growth is a rewarding and rewarding path, with benefits far beyond what we can predict. The alternative path of avoidance inevitably leads to a life of growing anxiety and fear. The 4th of July is our nation’s Independence Day, which in many ways commemorates the choice of growth over ease. What better time to start thinking about how we could shape our children’s choices to instill in them more resilience and ease!
Clifton Park-based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist Dr. Randy Cale offers practical advice for a host of parenting issues. His website, www.TerrificParenting.com, offers free parenting tips and an email newsletter. Readers can learn more by viewing past articles found on The Saratogian, The Record and The Community News websites. Submit your questions to [email protected]