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Why Teaching Kids To "Be Tough" Makes Them Insecure

It's time to start doing something different.

Do you want your kids to be mentally and emotionally strong? If so, then don’t do it by teaching them to “Be tough.” When we do this we are actually doing them a disservice.

By teaching them to bottle up their emotions and never let anyone see them as “weak,” we are putting our children on a path of insecurity.

In this blog post, I will explore the reasons why teaching kids to be tough makes them insecure and what we can do instead to help our children become mentally and emotionally strong adults.

But first I want to share a short story.

The Day I Stopped Being Myself

As a young boy, around 6 years old I went skating with my dad and my big brother one Friday like we did every Friday.

And after skating around for about 15 minutes, I remember coming back from the restroom to step back on the skating ring.

I wasn't paying the best attention because as I stepped onto the ring I got hit really hard by another boy who seemed to be a handful of years older than me.

The hit took all of my wind out.

I lay there on the ground struggling to breathe and began crying.

As I tried getting up, the kid I ran into punched me and pushed me back down, and his other friend started yelling at me verbal insults.

I remember trying to regain my breath and I got punched again by that friend, and then they said some more things to me and walked away to go back to their skating as if nothing happened.

Still regaining my breath I wipe my tears and went to the side to sit down, trying to process what had just happened.

We shortly left after this, and while sitting in the truck I told my dad about what had occurred.

And instead of getting the response, I thought I would, my dad started yelling at me for crying instead of fighting them back.

I started crying when he yelled at me, and then he got mad at me for that.

My dad said a lot of things, but the main point he was driving to me was that I needed to toughen up and not cry when I got hit (although I told him I was crying because I got hit so hard that I lost all my breath, not after getting punched).

At that moment, I came to a conclusion about life.

"Crying isn't what tough boys do."

In other words, "feeling my feelings isn't what tough boys do."

Why Being Afraid To Cry Makes You Insecure


I shared that story with you because this is a memory that came up during a hypnotherapy session where I had to deal with my lack of trust in myself.

I didn't trust myself to be successful. I felt as if I was a fraud and not worthy of being successful in the way I wanted to be so I just sabotaged everything.

In other words, I was insecure.

So I hired a hypnotherapist to help me overcome this feeling of low self-esteem, and in the process of finding the root cause, that memory came up.

My mind showed me that memory because it was that day that I stopped being myself.

It was that day that I learned that feeling my feelings and being myself was bad and would somehow get in me trouble.

Because fear of feeling your emotions only comes from a fear of being yourself.

And a lot of us learned that being ourselves is bad by being punished, criticized or laughed at for crying.

This leads to the development of protection mechanisms, one of them is putting up a wall around feeling your emotions, which is truly a fear of being yourself because your emotions are valid parts of your experience.

If you're afraid to feel your own experience then that is insecurity, it's literally the opposite of being secure in yourself. Do you see? We live in a society that defines strength as not showing emotions, and because we want to be seen as strong we learn how to bottle up our feelings and act like they aren't there.


Because we're too afraid of being seen as "weak" and like we can't keep ourselves together.

So if you define strength in the same way, then it's time to redefine it.

The Dangers Of Holding Emotions In For The Sake Of "Being Tough."


Before I list out the dangers, I want to share with you what an emotion is. According to neuroscientists, emotions are created by these chemicals that get released from the brain.

These chemicals are known as neurotransmitters.

When we think thoughts we fire neurons in our brain that then send information from one cell to the next.

This releases chemicals like serotonin, histamine, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine -- according to the kind of thought you are thinking.

These neurotransmitters and the chemicals they release are at their core units of energy.

Just like a calorie is a unit of energy, so are your thoughts.

And when you focus on a thought (or suppress it) you increase the electromagnetic charge of that thought which produces a wave of energy that moves through your nervous system.

These “waves” of energy are what we experience as emotions.

Emotions are electromagnetic waves of energy.

And energy has two rules.

  1. It cannot be created or destroyed.

  2. It cannot remain stagnant.

With that being said, do you see why holding them in goes against the very nature of emotions?

When we hold them in we don't destroy them, we just shove them into our bodies somewhere, and the energy doesn't die out or remain still, instead it's very active and alive.

This suppression of energy creates a list of problems.

1. It leads to depression and anxiety disorders

In a study published in the National Library Of Medicine, the evidence pointed to the fact that dysfunctional emotional regulation strategies, like "holding it in" is linked to depression, anxiety, and even physical illness.

This is because those emotions are still affecting your brain chemistry—even if you're not consciously aware of them bottled up inside of you, they can still lead to all sorts of problems—both physically and mentally.

Your emotions are like water in a bottle.

If you don't let them out, they'll just build up and eventually explode.

When you bottle up your emotions, you're not just risking an emotional outburst; you're also increasing your chances of developing depression and anxiety.

Anxiety and depression are signs of suppression.

And feeling confident in yourself is difficult when you're depressed.

2. Emotional suppression causes behavior issues.

One of my clients had an alcohol problem and was ready to stop, so using hypnosis and timeline therapy to help him overcome it, he went back to a memory where he was watching his parents argue in front of him.

He sat there crying and screaming for them to stop, but they didn't.

This made him feel like he was not important enough and his feelings didn't matter.

So he built up a habit of holding things in as well as seeking ways to feel a sense of significance.

As he grew, that way came in the form of drinking alcohol.

He felt insignificant, and instead of facing that feeling he just covered it up with alcohol, while also temporarily meeting an emotional need for him.

3. Creates crippling levels of self-doubt.

As a hypnotherapist who works with entrepreneurs, one of the main things I get asked to help people with is overcoming feelings of doubt, worthlessness, and low-self esteem.

Many times when helping them I discover that the doubt came from a fear of being themselves because they associated being vulnerable with being punished and criticized.

Feeling certain and confident in yourself is difficult when you're scared to feel your emotions.

4. It causes physical illness

When you bottle up your emotions, your body releases a stress hormone called cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been linked to everything from strokes to heart disease.

Bottling up your emotions also puts your organs in a fight or flight response, and no organ can remain under that kind of pressure for long durations of time without physical consequences.

5. It ruins quality relationships.

When you have a wall around your heart and don't feel the depths of your feelings, then you will rob yourself of true intimate connections that are nourishing for your heart.

A fear of feeling is a fear of being seen, which can cause you to keep people at an arm's distance and not experience a true connection.

This level of insecurity shows up and impacts a relationship negatively in many ways, like not being honest, lashing out, and expressing narcissistic tendencies.

How To Actually Raise Emotionally Strong Children

Now that you not only see how teaching your kids to "toughen up" through life can result in them being not only insecure but literally rob them of a quality life experience, you may be wondering what you can do instead to ensure their emotional strength and resilience.

The solution is simple, but it takes more.

Just know that the work is worth it.

If you want your children to be emotionally strong and mentally resilient, you need to teach Emotional Intelligence. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to be aware and understand emotions (both your own and others) and to use that information wisely.

People with high emotional intelligence can control their emotions, respond effectively to emotions in others, and create positive relationships. There are countless studies that show a direct correlation between emotional intelligence and success in life.

How To Teach Your Kids Emotional Intelligence

Now that you know emotional intelligence is the real solution, how do you actually teach your kids the skill?

I am going to grab an excerpt from my article, "How To End Child Suicide" where I covered exactly this.

1.) Allow expression.

As we covered before, it’s important that a child is allowed to be as they are when their emotions come.

This does not mean that you let your child run wild, it means you do not minimize or deny any of their feelings in such a way that can lead to them feeling shameful of who they are and begin suppressing those parts of themselves and continue doing so as they grow older.

Help them understand that the human experience contains the entire emotional experience that comes with it too.

Normalize them feeling okay for feeling what they feel.

Let them speak up more.

Let them use their voices.

Let them play and be silly.

Let them be themselves.

Allow them to follow their natural curiosities and discover their own unique talents and gifts.

When they discover them, encourage the use of them more often than not.

2.) Build solution orientation thinking.

Help your children see every emotion as feedback and a message, not something to be overcome by or dwell in.

When children see emotions this way, they see opportunities to overcome challenges by getting through them and facing them by feeling them as opposed to running away from feelings.

3.) Normalize failure.

When children get punished for making mistakes, they begin to associate pain with making a mistake or having a failed attempt at something.

Since our brains are hardwired for survival, we learn to avoid things that cause us pain.

So if a child grows up believing that it is dangerous to make a mistake, they begin suppressing certain desires they have and not fulfilling them because they become too scared to make an attempt at something.

Not just that, but they then identify themselves as failures simply because they “failed” or were “bad” at something.

Remind your child that sometimes it doesn’t feel too good to learn and try new things, even if we want to do those new things, but those unpleasant or fearful feelings are actually a normal part of learning something new.

Also, encourage their identity as a whole and worthy regardless of the feedback they get in life. Teach them that just because they fail at something doesn’t mean they are a failure, it just means they are learning, which is itself a huge success!

4.) Allow them to feel seen and be empathetic with them.

A very important part of building great coping skills is watching your parents demonstrate empathy.

This teaches you to soothe yourself and feels seen over time as it strengthens that neural pathway in your brain.

By being empathetic, and showing your child that you can see why they feel and see things the way they do, even if you don’t agree with them you will teach them to be empathetic with themselves.

When they have self-empathy, they will naturally work out a lot of their own problems.

This is a result of demonstrating empathy as a parent, for this is how children will learn it.

5.) Teach them how to listen to their bodies.

Bringing your child’s attention to their body will help your child be with their feelings so they can express what they are feeling.

When you notice they are happy, ask them, “How does happiness feel in your body?” Let them answer and describe it in their own way, this helps them understand and become more connected with their bodies.

When they are angry, anxious, or sad do the same thing.

Ask them how the feeling feels in their body.

Questions like this can really help your child get more in tune with what is present in their bodies:

“What are you noticing in your body?”

“Where do you feel the (emotion) in your body? Point to it.” “What shape does the emotion feel like?”

“What color would you give this emotion?”

“Can you describe how (emotion) feels?”

The whole point is to help them become more aware of their emotional experience and learn how to express those feelings through words.

These are a few ways you can begin teaching your kids emotional intelligence, and as a result, build real emotional "toughness."

In Conclusion

It’s easy to see why the “tough it out” message is so appealing to parents.

After all, we want our kids to be strong and resilient, especially in the face of adversity.

But as it turns out, teaching kids to hold in their emotions is not the best way to achieve this goal.

In fact, it may have just the opposite effect.

If you want your children to grow up emotionally strong and capable of handling life’s challenges, then you need to teach them emotional intelligence instead of telling them to “toughen up.”

Only then will they have the capacity to live consistent lives and demonstrate real emotional control.

This is why we created Zamio, to teach children emotional intelligence so they can cultivate confidence, create fulfilling relationships and be resilient enough to take on all of life's challenges.

Tap here if you want to learn more about it.

What was your biggest takeaway from this article?

Let me know in the comments below 👇

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The Ultimate Guide To Helping Your Kids Understand & Regulate Their Emotions

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