Teaching Mental Skills to Children

When working with children it is very important to remember that they are still developing in all aspects of their dynamics.  Mental skills have two major components; the way we think and the way we feel.  Everything we think will determine the way we feel and will eventually determine what we choose to do.

Therefore when working with children we need to consider their cognitive (brain) development and also their emotional development. The following table is a short explanation of these developmental stages:

Age Cognitive Development (Piaget) Emotional Development (Erikson)
Infancy0-1yearsEarly childhood1-3yearsPlay Age3-6Years

School age




Early Adulthood





Sensory- motor stage

  • Experience through senses

Pre-operational stage

  • Symbolic thoughts and play
  • Cannot see the relation between the pieces and whole

Concrete-operational stage

  • Concrete thinking

Formal-operational stage

  • Preoccupation with thoughts
  • Abstract thinking
  • Conclusions and logical thinking
Trust v distrust=HopeAutonomy v doubt = Will PowerInitiative v guilt = Purpose 

Industry v inferiority = Competence


Identity v confusion = Trustworthiness


Intimacy v isolation = Love


Generativity v stagnation = Care


Integrity v despair = Wisdom


Meyer, Moore, Viljoen, 1994

The above table shows us that development is a process and one aspect leads to another aspect. Patterns can help you to become better or worse. Bad habits start as easy as good habits. Just like distrust can lead to doubt can lead to guilt that leads to inferiority, confusion, isolation, stagnation and then despair; so can trust lead to hope, to will power, to purpose, to competence, to trustworthiness, to love, to care and to deeper to wisdom.

Mental toughness is your ability to deal with any given circumstance in life or competition in such a way that you are able to rise to the occasion with confidence, make wise decisions and experience the thrill of mastering a situation to the best of your potential at that given moment.

It is also the wisdom to understand that life and competing is much more than winning – it is about becoming. We need to have the right mindset; we need to become mentally tough in training or preparation, under any circumstances, and often after exposure to extreme pressure.

To teach children to take Responsibility for both their thoughts and their feelings we can learn from Brokenleg’s Circle of Courage:



M. Le Roux

Educational Psychologist