How to teach your kids to do hard things

Justin Bertelsen
I started training for a half marathon today. Let me tell you, getting ready to run 13.1 miles is hard. It requires dedication, grit, and stamina. Today we ran for 20 minutes and as we started along the running path, our 3 year old, Ross told us that he wanted to get out and run. This is normal. Sometimes when we go for a walk, he runs and gets ahead of us and then comes back. But this time, we were running as well. We had run about 1/10 of a mile and Ross turned around and said, “ I want to ride.” We put him in the stroller and continued our run.

As I mentioned, Ross is only three so it’s no surprise that running 20 minutes without stopping would be too much for him. But as he gets older, how do I teach him to push through the tough things he will encounter in his life?

Here are 3 tips

Allow natural consequences:

If your kid doesn't perform as well as they would like to on a test, game, or performance, and they slacked off in their preparation, you need to help them see the consequences for their actions. Don't guilt trip or belittle, but help them see that because they laid around all summer and didn't practice they didn't make the team. Being real with your kids helps you develop a deep sense of trust. One way of walking them through this process is asking questions so they can make the connection themselves. Just as Gottman talks about asking children questions to guide them through their emotions, we can ask questions to guide them through natural consequences.

Check out these articles for more on consequences and emotional coaching:

Emotional coaching:

Let them choose:

When your child doesn't want to practice or put in the effort to get better at something, encourage but don't force. Persuade but don't push. Helping kids make their own decisions is an essential part of parenting. Another tip within letting them choose is to give them 2 choices. Would you like to wear the blue pants or the red pants? Giving them small choices and allowing them to feel successful in small choices primes them to use their agency to choose in bigger situations later in life.

This article is an incredible resource for helping parents give kids choices. is one of my favorite places to learn about parenting and child development.

Show support:

If your kid is being lazy and setting themselves up for disappointment, provide them with resources that they can use to make better choices. If your child knows that they are supported, they will be more likely to choose to do hard things. “Heart to hearts”, family meetings, and other intimate settings are appropriate to let your child know that they have a bunch of people cheering them on and helping them achieve their goals.


Helping kids do hard things in their lives is one way we can encourage growth and trust in our families. Make sure to support your children with a calm demeanor and a reassuring tone as they test the limits of what is possible for them.