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The Best Parenting Gift You Can Give Your Kids

by Sarah on October 17, 2010

share save 171 16 The Best Parenting Gift You Can Give Your Kids

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Your kids need toughness.


It’s one of the most important gifts you can give your children.


This is no easy world. 


It never has been . . . From when we cautiously crept around acacia trees on the savannah, wary of predators . . .  


And it never will be . . .Technology and civilization has given us many creature comforts and made plenty of daily tasks easier.  But they still guarantee nothing.  A few hacker keystrokes and the structure of our daily lives is torn apart – no electricity, no bank account, no internet. 


Simply put:  Not everyone is nice out there and not everything is easy. 


Our children will face headaches, hardships, and heartbreak.


And we won’t always be there to stand between them and these beasts. We won’t be there to comfort, wash their cuts and put a bandaid and a kiss on them.


All we can do is prepare them a little.  Strengthen their defenses and nurture their restorative powers.


Here’s where family fitness can come in as a powerful parenting tool to help your kids build some internal armor.


Fitness activities – sports, physical work, exercise – all are structured ways to push us outside of our comfort zone.  Plenty of research has shown how this calibrated stress actually helps us live longer.


But it also is the place where we can strengthen our most powerful "muscle" – the mind. 


You don’t feel like running that extra half-mile, but you tell yourself to keep going . . .


You’re frightened of climbing up that rock wall, but you master your fear and carefully work your way up . . .


Your daughter lost the soccer game, but she learns to turn right around and practice even harder . . .


Your son fell mountain biking, banged up his knee, but steels himself and gets back on . . .


This part of fitness is not about your body’s strength or endurance.  It’s about your mind.  Your mental toughness.


When you bring your children into the fitness arena, you’re bringing them into a world of challenges, bruises and shortcomings.  But there’s also a safety zone, there’s structure.  You’re there with them to face these beasts.  You’re there to coach your child to take on the challenge.  You get them to stand up again after an injury . . .


And you’re also there to congratulate them with all your heart or wrap them in a hug.


I grew up without this kind of parenting and coaching, indulged in a family where I was allowed to go into areas in which I easily excelled.  Never ever prodded to face my nemeses. 


Not only did this mean I never developed my soccer or swimming or gymnastics skills as much as they could be. 


It meant something worse – I continued to shy away from relationships, career moves, projects, personal development steps that required me to work hard.  I was afraid of risking failure, not doing well.  I looked for easy ways out and easy, unchallenging routes to success.  It took me a while to learn that real success is never found this way.


Only when I started facing and stopped avoiding life’s rough spots did I grow and gain real satisfaction.


So just as you have to push yourself to run a little faster or harder, push your kids too.  Don’t let them back out at the first sign of frustration or difficulty.


Now, I’m not suggesting you be one of those horrible little league parents who yells and rants at their poor child, venting demons he never dealt with.


No.  Not at all.  Use judgment.  Use discretion.  Gauge how much your child needs to be pushed, what tears you can coach them to work through and which ones warrant time in your lap.  But don’t automatically swoop in to help them.  And don’t automatically back off.


Kids look to us to assess a situation.  Ever notice how there is that pause when your child falls where she looks up at you to decide whether she should cry or not?  She studies your face and then either starts bawling or just gets up and skips away.


Our reaction to their challenges will influence tremendously how they take them on.


But using family fitness as a way to develop mental resiliency can’t be beat for two other reasons:


  1. The more time you spend together with your children, the more you build that familiarity, that trust that is essential for doing some of the tough part of parenting – disciplining.  Kids rebel against reprimands from someone who hasn’t been there during other times in their life – times of laughter, reflection and affection.  But if you’ve been there to snuggle or to giggle, you are accepted as someone to lay down the law too.  Your children instinctively understand that you love them – they’ve seen it in your devoted presence in their life.  Fitness allows you spend more time together and build this rapport.


  1. You are a model for them.  They see you sweating and gritting your teeth.  They see you struggling to ski down a slope or learn how to swim.  They see you working through sore muscles or a scrape.  The most solid way to teach is to do it and model it.  Family fitness provides millions such opportunities.


When it comes down to it, just like in life – failures are not failures – if you keep on working at it.  Give your kids the skills to transform obstacles and failures into success and you’ve given the key to life lived on their own terms.

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