One of the hallmarks of an anxiety-filled life is that their priority is to relieve their sense of anxiety or avoid future moments with possible anxiety. They create a life where avoiding discomfort is most important, and activities and opportunities for growth and development are secondary.

Research suggests that a life that is prioritized around the avoidance of discomfort and anxiety creates a propensity for unhappiness and anxiety. The more we avoid stress or discomfort, the stronger that fear becomes and eventually dominates our lives.

Let’s think about how this works for kids.

We know that children who establish a pattern of avoiding anxiety and discomfort as a habitual way of dealing with problems end up becoming less and less willing to challenge themselves. They run from complex tasks to prevent situations that could cause anxiety, and their skills and self-esteem shrink accordingly. There is no possibility for developing competence, the ability to handle stress, or to learn skills that allow them to handle frustration and difficulty.

They learn to seek relief from discomfort and anxiety over the value of accomplishment and persistence. This creates more stress in their lives, as avoidance immediately strengthens the inner fear that “I can’t handle this. It’s too much for me.” That fear becomes like a virus that feeds on the avoidance of discomfort.

In contrast, children willing to tolerate some stressful emotions learn to “esteem” themselves from the accomplishment that comes with putting forth effort on academic tasks, athletic activities, and creative and artistic endeavors. They also learn that a bit of stress comes and goes, and it’s just part of the growth process and new experience.

Many positive results will also follow when children (and adults) learn to exert their best effort and fully engage in an activity, even if the process produces some stressful feelings.

With some effort, our attention is focused on learning, growing, and doing our best. Even when progress is not easily substantiated, the complete immersion of our effort and attention toward an activity has a positive benefit. The sense of anxiety and stress decline BECAUSE the mind is focused elsewhere.

So, what strategy will serve your children?

Teach your children to seek growth experiences over comfortable experiences. Anyone who has developed expertise in any particular area has consistently and repeatedly stepped into situations that caused some degree of anxiety and did so to experience the benefits of growth and success. They do not focus on the anxiety; instead, the focus is on the task at hand and the potential goals that they seek to attain.

Here are the three secrets to building resilience in the face of challenges and anxiety.

1. Parents must model behavior that seeks growth over comfort.

If Mom and Dad come home at the end of the day, grab a drink, and sit in front of the TV, what is being modeled? The desire to escape over seeking any one of an unlimited number of potential goals or activities.

They can exercise, read a book, meditate, hike, take a bike ride, play a game with their kids, volunteer, teach, take a class, etc. If parents can model that they seek growth and development over comfort, kids will recognize this, and they will learn from it.

2. Parents must be cautious not to feed comfort-seeking behavior.

Let me be clear: I want a peaceful, comfortable life, and the same goes for you and your kids. However, deep peace does not come from seeking ease as the number one priority. It comes from seeking growth and expansion and peacefully walking that path.

It’s not that I discourage comfort; you need to be aware of the pattern your children display and that they don’t seek relief from challenges by trying to find a way out. They could do this through throwing a temper tantrum, running away from challenges, and complaining or whining about how hard life is.

As parents, you must be careful not to feed into this. In other words, don’t keep responding to it and giving it lots of energy and attention.

3. Instead, walk away and ignore it.

Make certain you’re not constantly giving energy to these complaints and whining and frustrations…instead, walk away. Do this repeatedly and consistently for the next 60 days. Then notice what things look like.