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Raising overcomers: How to teach your kids to do hard things

Ever wonder how to teach your kids to fight fear, to live brave and overcome hard things?

teach your kids to do hard things

I haven't taught any of my children to ride a bike. Not one of the four.


I've helped, for sure. I've held on to the seat and steadied them while they will their bodies to balance and their feet to push the pedals, but my husband has always been the one to let go of the seat and enable their independence.

This never even occurred to me until I was working with my youngest on riding sans training wheels last month. My husband had been gone for the weekend and sensing my little guy was ready, I took the training wheels off and started coaching him along. When my husband arrived home he put one steady hand on the back of my son's bicycle seat, lingered for a mere second and sent him on his way. Just like that, he was riding a bike.

And I realized, it was the letting go that was hard for me.

If my husband hadn't come home, I might still be scampering along behind that little boy's bike—holding him back, rather than watching him soar.

Ever wonder how to teach your kids to do hard things? How to fight fear, to live brave and overcome hard things? Here are some great ideas to get you started.

Life is full of hard things. Full of them. Learning to walk is tough. Growing up is challenging. Learning to become a good spouse is no easy feat, settling into the role of mother is hard. Hard. Hard. Hard. So why wouldn't we want to prepare our kids to handle hard things well—to not balk at the pressure? Why shouldn't we seek to give them eyes that see beyond what's right in front of them, intentionally training them and equipping them with the tools to handle hard things?

Here are 5 things I want to be intentional about in raising kids who can do hard things, kids who are overcomers.

1. Let them fail

Really. Our home is a training ground for life. And so is yours. It's a place where our children are loved no matter what, a place where their worth is not based on performance, and the safest place for them trip and fall and learn about what it takes to get back up again.

As the supplier of band-aids and ice packs this can be hard for a mama to do. My natural tendency is to smooth out all the rough spots, champion my children to success and just continue holding on to their bicycle seats for a good long while. But this does not help them in the long run.

A cut-throat workplace or college class are not the best place for our kids to be learning these lessons for the first time. Be intentional about giving your children a safe place to mess it all up, to crash and burn, to learn consequences and forgiveness and exactly what it takes to get back up and try again.

2. Equip them

Watching our children deal with hard things give us the opportunity to teach them how to respond well. Recently my daughter took two weeks of group swimming lessons—something that was new to her. Although she was scared, she made it through the first week quite well. She conquered some fears and by the end of the week she was having all kinds of fun.

However, after a long weekend she began to fear swimming lessons again and didn't want to return for the second week. Through tears she told me how much she hated swimming. And I quickly understood this wasn't really about swimming anymore. She was being seized by fear. She loved swimming just a few days earlier and now she was believing a lie, believing her fears.

One thing I'm learning is that no matter how irrational, improbable, or ridiculous it may seem to someone else, fear is real. We all fear different things, but when you are in the midst of it, it becomes your reality. Minimizing someone else's fear is not helpful.

I remember having a math teacher once who seemed to think all of math was easy. Which was great for him, but it did not change the fact that it was NOT easy for me. Ever. I fought for every good math grade I got. It never got easy, but I was able to learn the principals well enough to get through it and avoid it for the rest of my adult life. (I'm kidding…partly.)

The same strategy applied to my scared swimmer. Telling her swimming is fun and not scary would not be helpful, but teaching her how we handle fear, how we fight lies that can eat away at our hearts, is quite useful.

3. Talk truth

While we try to re-shape hearts and complaining attitudes around here we don't shy away from calling things hard. Learning to swim is hard. Pulling weeds is hard. Keeping a tidy home is hard. Sure it is, but that doesn't mean we don't do it.

As my kids get older we talk more and more about the hard things of life, because they don't ever magically go away. We talk about their dad's job and the hard things he does there. We talk about paying bills and taxes, we talk about being treated unfairly or unkindly.

Opportunities abound—that grumpy grocery store clerk who seems to be having a hard day, discuss it with your kids. That construction worker who is sweating up a storm in his hard hat, talk about it with your kids. Talking truth with your children, rather than sugar-coating life lessons, conditions them to understanding that hard work is a part of life and not something we shy away from.

4. Start training them

Have you ever considered intentionally training your children to do hard things, to push past their will and what they see right in front of them in order to learn the value of perseverance? You can be intentional about helping your children develop faithfulness and tenacity.

Try taking on a big challenge as a family. Help your kids engage in conversations outside of their comfort zone or offer an apology even when it feels awkward. Show them how to serve others or what it might look like to give sacrificially. These things don't come naturally for most children, or adults for that matter. Walk them through it intentionally and give them opportunities and new environments in which to practice it. Make sure they see you doing the same.

You can practice hard things at home as well. If your home is like ours there are plenty of jobs and chores my husband and I do out of habit or because it's quicker and cleaner if we do them ourselves, but allowing our children to do the work grows and shapes them.

Let them fold their clothes, let them weed the flower beds, teach them to clean up the kitchen, to sweep the steps and wash the windows. The tasks will grow with age, of course, and you can even make some of the bigger and more challenging chores paid jobs, but only pay for a job well done. It all takes effort and oversight on your part, but slowly they will begin to learn the value of hard work and doing hard things. And, hopefully, your house will be getting cleaner in the process!

5. Follow through

Similar to discipline, follow through is key and is often the hardest part as a parent. Recently, my husband was working on training my son in the area of responsibility and before leaving for work one morning he said to me, “We had a talk last night about responsibility and I told Tyler that I expect his chores to be completed by the time I get home from work. Please don't give him any reminders today." No reminders. Can I tell you how that about killed me as mama?

9:00: Chores weren't done.

11:00: Chores weren't done. And I may have developed a nervous tick trying to keep my mouth shut. Thankfully, by the time my husband got home the chores were finally done and I can honestly say I did not give any reminders. But it doesn't always work out that way.

This parenting gig, this training kids thing, is hard. It's work.

You love those kids like crazy and if you're anything like me, you tend to let them off the hook too easy at times. But that is not parenting brave. Parenting brave requires the very same thing of us that we are trying to train in our kids, making decisions not based solely on what is right in front of us, but with the end result in mind. In this case that would be responsible and capable adults.

A version of this article was originally published on I Choose Brave.

Learning to do hard things isn't easy for anyone. But we've found some tools that can help.

Big Life Journal 

Big Life Journal

Fun and engaging, this science-based guided journal helps kids develop social-emotional learning and a growth mindset so they can face life's challenges with confidence.

$25

Slumberkins narwhal snuggler

Slumberkins narwhal snuggler

Slumberkins is an oh-so-soft plush creature that comes with a book and mantra card to help kids calm fears and anxieties by naming their feelings. Narwhal is perfect for teaching the valuable life skill of a growth mindset. Along with its story, it introduces little ones to the concept of responsibility and teamwork.

$44

14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

Minimize smoke exposure.

Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

Do your best to filter the air.

According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

"Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

Most importantly, don't panic.

In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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