#1 Help them Develop & Cultivate Self-Awareness

Written by Violaine Guéritault, Ph.D.

Self-awareness is the key. How can your young person change or improve any aspect of their life if they are not aware that this part of their life requires attention or even exists? Self-awareness is essential because it gives your young person a better understanding of themselves, including their thoughts and beliefs, their emotions, and motivations. It empowers them to make changes and to build on their areas of strength, and to identify areas where they would like to make improvements. It is the first step towards developing their mental strength.

How you can help!
  • Encourage them to practice mindfulness and meditation. Meditating frequently can go a long way, even if only for 5 minutes at a time.
  • Help them learn to practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Have them keep a journal — and practice daily self-reflection.
  • Help them write down their goals, plans, and priorities.
  • Have them ask their trusted friends to describe them.

#2 Making Time for Quiet Reflection

Between their hectic schedule, their phone constantly calling for their attention, and the pressure to be productive, there seems to be little room for quiet time in your young person’s life. Encourage them to find quiet moments — you can also offer to do it with them. Have them set aside 10 or 15 minutes a day to be alone with their thoughts.

Such quiet time is essential to building their mental strength. It’s a choice, and thus it’s their choice to make time for quiet reflection in their day. Doing so is an important and integral part of growth and renewal. It reduces stress and restores mental wellness. It allows their brain to rest and helps them pay attention better. It also gives them a chance to turn down the inner noise and increase awareness of what matters most. It cultivates mindfulness through recognition and appreciation of the present moment.

How you can help!
  • Motivate them to do more meditating, making it a daily practice.
  • Remind them to journal and journal often.
  • Suggest they go out for a walk by themselves, if possible, in nature. Tell them to take the dog along with them if you have one. The dog will love them for it!
  • Have them practice some mindful coloring. You could get them a mindfulness coloring book. They are amazing.
  • Encourage them to look out the window the next time they are a passenger in the car instead of looking at their phone.

#3 The Power of Challenging Oneself - Stepping outside the comfort zone

Stepping outside their comfort zone is another important step for your young person towards developing their mental strength. Maybe you can remind them of the quote “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” -N. D. Walsh.

So, what does it mean for your preteen or teen to step outside their comfort zone? It means doing things they are not particularly comfortable with doing. It encourages them to test what they believe to be their limits and discover that those limits are often self-imposed and are not necessarily a reflection of what they are actually capable of.

Remind your young person that taking reasonable risks, regardless of their outcomes, are growth experiences that will enrich their mental strength. Every time they try something new, and allow themselves to be open to whatever experience arises, they are learning and expanding their repertoire of life skills and self-knowledge. As a result, they also expand the size of their comfort zone and they become better equipped to deal with new challenges. They also become more productive, more adaptable to change, and a lot more creative. Encourage them to try it and see for themselves.

How you can help!
  • Encourage them to hang out with people who value stepping out of their comfort zone.
  • Have them throw out things they have not used for one year.
  • Set a goal for them to take one day offline.
  • Propose to them having a day of kindness.
  • Encourage them to smile at strangers.
  • Cook something unusual for them to eat.
  • Remind them that failure is a teacher and an opportunity to grow as a person.
  • Model to your preteen or teen your own resilience by continuing to persevere to your own success…  “fall down 7 times, get up 8.”

#4 Practice Gratitude

Did you know that scientists have been studying the practice of gratitude very closely? What have they found? Research shows that practicing gratitude on a daily basis can enhance long-term happiness by 10%. Studies also show that gratitude can:

  • Enhance positive emotions, increase self-esteem, and strengthen family relationships in times of stress.
  • It can also make us more optimistic and more giving.
  • It enhances optimism and improves our overall physical health.

And all those benefits are crucial to the development of mental strength, therefore, your young person, and you, and all of us for that matter, should practice gratitude without the slightest hesitation.

How you can help!
  • Have them keep a gratitude journal and add one thing to it every day.
  • Encourage them to tell someone they love them and how much they appreciate them.
  • Help them to notice the beauty in nature each day.
  • Join them in saying thank you for the little things loved ones do, things you both may normally take for granted.
  • Help them commit to one day a week of no complaining.
  • Encourage them to smile more often!

#5 Being Kind to Oneself

Just as important as it is to be kind to others, it’s equally important to practice kindness towards ourselves. This is the power of acceptance and growth. Being kind to oneself has been found to promote happiness and confidence, not to mention that how we treat ourselves sets the tone for how others will treat us.

Self-compassion and being kind to ourselves should never be confused with self-pity. Kindness toward oneself is simply recognizing that life can be difficult at times and that sometimes we need to do things to make life a little easier. That is not a bad thing. Going through puberty, dealing with school pressures, and navigating all the aspects of one’s social life can be hard for your young person. Change is everywhere during this time and mistakes will be made, which is why it is so important for them to practice self-compassion.

Studies also show that self-compassion can help your young person’s brain function more efficiently, it improves their immune system, and positive self-talk boosts their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. This can empower your young person and motivate them to turn a bad day into a good day, and that is a sign of mental strength. In light of all these benefits, it certainly does not hurt any of us to give self-compassion a try, does it?

How you can help!
  • Help them learn how to calm their mind — meditate more!
  • Make sure they spend time with people who do good things and who are uplifting and positive.
  • If they stumble, remind them to be their own best friend.
  • Have them write themselves a love letter.
  • Help them think of a positive way to make their life easier, then have them do it.
  • Emphasize that they need to respect themselves fully.
  • Remind them often why it’s smart to be kind to yourself.

#6 Taking Good Care of their Body

Make a point to explain to your young person that taking care of their body helps them care for their mind. That’s a golden rule. Mental and physical health are very closely linked. One often affects the other. It’s the body-mind connection.

Studies show that our physical health has huge impacts on how we feel, on how our mind functions, and even on our emotions. Taking care of their body will mean increased energy levels for your preteen or teen, a better ability to accomplish their daily goals, and an increased capacity to handle daily problems and challenges that arise in their life. It will also help them concentrate on any given task, which means that their tasks will take less time to complete. It will even influence their decision-making skills.

How you can help!
  • Make sure to motivate them to eat a healthy and balanced diet with lots of vegetables and fruits.
  • Help them find a physical activity they like and inspire them to exercise as often as they can.
  • Make sure they get plenty of ZZZZ’s.
  • Remind them of the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use.
  • Keep encouraging them to meditate more!

#7 Taking a Step Toward their Dreams

As you now know, mental strength is crucial to reaching our goals. One way for your preteen or teen to cultivate their mental strength is to take a first step towards their dreams. Mental strength and taking steps toward achieving our dreams do feed into each other. It’s a very powerful feedback loop. As your young person takes those first steps, they may feel afraid because they are stepping out of their comfort zone. That’s completely normal. But as they get past the first small steps that they set for themselves, they will feel less anxious, more confident, and more comfortable pushing their own boundaries. It will also teach them to be realistic, humble, and to set achievable deadlines for their dreams. This will help them avoid unnecessary setbacks that could discourage them from moving forward. And as a result of all this, their mental strength will grow bigger and stronger.

How you can help!
  • Encourage them not to wait until the conditions are perfect — the best time to start is NOW.
  • Help them to believe in their dreams, visualize them, and feel them as if they were already happening.
  • Remind them to take one step at a time — and set realistic deadlines and goals.
  • Support them and cheer them on to go for it and enjoy it!

#8 Spending More Time with Family & Friends

Looking for yet another way for your young person to boost their happiness while developing their mental strength? Encourage them to try this very pleasant one that scientists have found to have many benefits: have them consider taking a well needed break from their phone and go spend some time with family and friends. “Why?” they might ask. Truth be told, they already know why, because they’ve done it before and they know how rewarding and pleasant it is. Now, tell them they may want to choose to do it more often because studies show that it will not only reduce their stress but it will also encourage positive behaviors, like exercising and eating healthy, while discouraging negative ones, such as smoking and doing drugs.

Research has also found that it will significantly improve their mental health, boost their self-esteem, and even possibly lengthen their life. It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

How you can help!
  • Ask them to turn off their phone and go see their friends.
  • Set a goal of at least one meal together as a family each week (no phones allowed).
  • Set them a goal of exercising or working out together with a member of the family every week.
  • Go for a walk together after dinner — and don’t forget to take the dog with you if you have one.
  • Ask them to help you cook a meal together.
  • Do a good deed together and spread smiles.
  • Turn off your phone, and their phone, and hang together. Yes, again!

#9 Creating a Life Aligned with Their Values

It’s important for your young person to realize that their values guide their decisions and set the tone for how they live their life. Living a life aligned with their values will teach them to be the most authentic version of themselves in all aspects of their life. Your preteen or teen will benefit greatly from discovering that their values guide them back to who they truly are and they represent a very powerful way to lead an intentional life that is more stable and authentic. Becoming aware of this will help them figure out who they are and what they really stand for. Moreover, living in alignment with their values will also bring them closer to finding their life purpose, by giving their life both direction and meaning. And that is one of the purest expressions of what mental strength is all about.

How you can help!
  • Have them identify and define their values. It’s the first step toward really living them.
  • Make sure they write them down and list the ways they show up for them.
  • Put those values where you both can see them often — write them down on sticky notes that they can place in visible spots in their room.
  • Remind them to surround themselves with the people who share their values, and let go of those that look down upon them.
  • Help them to identify when their values are out of alignment.
  • Encourage them to think about and determine what a life aligned with their values would look like.

#10 Letting Go of Unhealthy Habits

Does your preteen or teen have a few unhealthy habits you would like them to get rid of? Having bad habits is nothing to be embarrassed about. We all do. That being said, being open to breaking those habits would put your young person at an advantage compared to people who deny them. Your young person might ask you why they would want to change their bad habits? The answer is simple — because bad habits are powerful magnets that pull them away from their goals, thus causing a loss of their potential and motivation and slowing down their growth. And that, by definition, is one of the surest ways your young person can sabotage their mental strength.

How you can help!
  • Model for them by identifying and breaking habits you’d like to eliminate yourself (e.g., smoking, distracted driving, unhealthy eating, etc.)
  • Together, practice being aware of the triggers that cause bad habits.
  • Practice mindfulness together to develop awareness in both of you.
  • Help them to focus on why they may want to change.
  • Support them in replacing the unwanted behavior with a new behavior instead of simply trying to stop the unwanted behavior.
  • Prepare them for setbacks — they are a normal part of the process.
  • Help them enlist a friend’s support.
  • Help them to let go of the all-or-nothing mindset.
  • Practice with them starting small — one step at a time.
  • Have them visualize themselves breaking the habit.
  • And most importantly, make sure they are kind to themselves and give it time.