Raise a Can-Do Kid!

Inspired by our favorite third-grader, Judy Moody, we reveal how to boost your child&s confidence and resilience when life gets tough.
By Elina Bolokhova
Jun 05, 2014



Little Boy Super Hero Concept

Jun 05, 2014

Whether she’s solving crimes or trying to save the world, Judy Moody — the super-spunky third-grader created by author Megan McDonald — doesn’t take things sitting down. And though her outlandish schemes do sometimes get her in a pickle, it’s hard not to admire Judy’s go-get-’em attitude, creativity, and resilience. Wishing your children had a bit more of Judy in them? We asked Gail Saltz, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, how you can foster these same qualities in your kids when the going gets rough.

The challenge
Your child is beside herself after her best friend wins a contest — one your child wasn’t even in!

Overcome it
Refocusing her attention on the effort her friend had to make to snag that win can help ease those feelings of envy. To a child, a prize or a trophy can look like a gift. “Make the link that what you put in is what you will end up getting out in the long run,” says Dr. Saltz. Use this event as an opportunity to brainstorm some things your kid can work hard on in order to reap her own reward.

The challenge
“Mooooom, I’m booored!”

Overcome it
Leave her be (really!). Our children live in a world of endless digital devices and external stimulations, which make it seem like being bored is a bad thing. Not so, says Dr. Saltz: “Being bored forces you to creatively come up with something to stimulate your own mind.” And soon enough, she’ll gravitate toward something. The key is to make sure you don’t become her personal entertainment director. So challenge your child to make a list of things she finds entertaining — and then have her refer to that list when she’s at a loss for something to do. This is a great chance for her to go tech-free by reading, playing pretend, or "cooking up" a mud pie in the backyard. By not rushing to the rescue, you teach your child to self-soothe, feel more independent, and think outside the box. (One tip for younger kids: Finding something to do for, say, an entire hour or two can be daunting, so start with smaller intervals. Set the timer for 20 minutes and see what she comes up with.)

The challenge
Your kid tried out for the basketball team — but didn’t make the cut.

Overcome it
Go ahead and let him mourn. “Parents are very quick to create a circus so their kid never feels upset about anything,” Dr. Saltz warns. So instead of downplaying the issue or pulling out the stops to change the subject, simply be sympathetic to your kid’s disappointment. Tell him about a time when you were rejected and what you did to get through it. Once your child has had time to process, sit down and encourage him to make a game plan for how he can improve come next year — whether it’s drafting a practice schedule or enlisting an older student for some coaching. Plus, when it comes to team sports, there are often local rec leagues that don’t require try-outs; these are great options because your child still gets to participate in a sport he loves while also improving his skill. Bottom line: You want to model the idea that one defeat doesn’t mean you’re doomed for life! Show your kids that they can be creative in figuring out how to get the experience they need to succeed, says Dr. Saltz.

The challenge
Your kid begged and begged for those karate/singing/rock-climbing lessons, so you signed him up. Now, he wants to quit.

Overcome it
Avoid giving him the easy way out. “It’s important for kids to understand that to get the super fun part for doing something new, you often have to get through some not-fun parts first,” Dr. Saltz says. Learning a new skill can be hard at first, so remind your child that if he sticks with it now, he’s going to look back and be really glad he did. Now, the best way to avoid this behavior altogether is to set a policy from the start: If you sign up for a series of lessons, you’ll finish them. If you choose not to continue after that, so be it!

PHOTO CREDIT: Rawpixel Ltd/istockphoto
Based on the Candlewick Press series of the same names
Written by Megan McDonald and Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

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Child Development and Behavior