Wednesday Wisdom

January 12, 2022

Challenge Accepted

By Dr Kathy Weston

Challenge Accepted


With a teeny-weeny bit of reluctance (ok, they had to drag me), I attended Monster Trucks Live! with my two boys last weekend, at the O2 arena in London. My presence was part of my ongoing efforts to evolve into ‘fun mum’ rather than ‘chief nagger’. Plus, we have to deliver on birthday and holiday promises, don’t we?

Once there, I sat alongside everyone else, waving chequered flags, trying to be enthusiastic for the Dance Cam. Gigantic diesel trucks did ‘donuts’ on the concrete platform below and the noise was akin to what must have been experienced in Roman gladiatorial rings. With my fingers plugged firmly in ear holes and a mask on, I communicated my thoughts to my husband via only my eyebrows.

Whilst the children were glued to the mayhem below, I took a look around and couldn’t help but be touched by the utter enthusiasm and engagement of the watching children; mesmerised, patiently following the scoreboard and cheering on their favourites. Where I had perhaps doubted the educational benefit of such an experience, my ears pricked up when the main presenter made a rallying call about the power of the growth mindset. “All of these riders have failed, messed up and fallen down. But, what do they do? They get up again, they try hard and they respond to any challenge, with the words… CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!”. Suddenly, every child in the venue was shouting “Challenge Accepted!” and fist-pumping the air in unison. It was heartening.

I reflected on the great value of children witnessing terrific feats of physical skill right in front of their eyes, whilst receiving messages about the power of perseverance from their Monster Truck heroes. Children need to be inspired in order to feel motivated. They need to understand that being good at something takes time and practice. My children both took something away from the Monster Truck experience. My teen was clearly jealous of the skills of the stunt drivers and spent the next day quietly trying out a few bike stunts. My youngest was observed digging out his old Hot Wheels set.

Witnessing skills in action is inspiring for children and our day out renewed my own desire to expose my children to as many ‘live’ experiences as possible this coming year. All of our children have been denied access to social and cultural experiences over the last two years (it is painful to reflect on how many), so during 2022, assuming it’s safe to do so, if the chance arises to attend events that are capable of suspending our own and our children’s disbelief, consider taking it.


The pandemic has impacted on us all and, to varying degrees, children’s, teenagers’ and adults’ social confidence has been affected.

For a period of time last year, children were unable to interact socially in the non-virtual world. In the main, they didn’t partake in the hustle and bustle of the classroom environment, the playground, birthday parties, social or sporting events. Many, particularly only children, didn’t have play companions for months on end. Research from early last year showed that during lockdown, only children were at a particularly elevated risk of feeling ‘lonely most of the time’.

Mental health literature emphasises the need for the amplification of play as an immediate boost for children’s mental health and urges schools to do what they can to give children and teens access to activities and opportunities that will help them to re-discover agency and self-worth.

Even small challenges can feel daunting when you have been at home for a while and we all have work to do in nudging ourselves and our families back into that mental space of gentle goal-setting, trying, persevering and working through our wobbles along the way.

A first step is working out exactly how we are feeling at the moment (asking children to rate how they feel about particular aspects of their lives can sometimes shortcut these chats) and being as proactively organised as possible about the weeks ahead. Can you map out what is in the family calendar and anticipate the stress points? How can you work together to mitigate the challenges ahead? How can you motivate and encourage each other with your individual goals?

As I always like to say, families are teams. As adults, we have likely all had experience of working in teams. We understand the importance of knowing where we are heading, articulating what we believe in, having a short and long term vision and bringing the team along with us. And, along with all that leadership stuff, we also need to have fun.


As adults, sometimes we may be tempted to conclude that fun is something superficial; a reward to be had after we’ve got through the mundane stuff of everyday life.

Actually, new research is showing that fun is fundamental to our wellbeing and that, for children and young people, it plays a vital role in the development of their self-concept and self-esteem. Dr Mimi Tatlow-Golden, director of the Open University’s RUMPUS group for research into fun (who we are very excited to say will be our Researcher of the Month in February), has found fun to be at the very core of what matters to young people most. This applies both to the activities that they do (regardless of whether or not they consider themselves to be good at them) and to their most important and valued relationships with people and pets.

Far from being frivolous, fun is utterly vital. For our children (and for us), the act of having fun is deeply meaningful, offering opportunities for challenge, reward and transgression. Dr Tatlow-Golden brilliantly describes fun as a ‘kaleidoscopic construct’, which has multiple layers of importance and meaning to us all. Access to fun, it turns out, is a key determinant of our children’s intrinsic feelings of motivation and self-esteem and is something that we should seek to promote as much as we can (yes, even if that means attending Monster Truck Live!).

So, if you want to nurture children’s developing self-esteem this January, my advice is to sit down as a family, tune in to their interests, talk about what they find truly enjoyable, discover what little goals and challenges they want to set themselves, and start planning some activities that you can all look forward to.

Are you a Tooled Up member?

At Tooled Up, we value aspiration and challenge and have numerous resources to nudge young people to do the same. As we move firmly into 2022, why not get the whole family to think a little about the future by filling in our Goal Setting Planner.

Alongside planning, it’s also valuable to reflect! Encourage younger children to think about their achievements by filling out our CV and reflect on their schoolwork with our Challenge Levels for Learning activity. Teens might like to use our Mindset Planner and Wellbeing Journal.

To encourage children to have some fun and build self-esteem, check out our list of 100 Sports to Try, encourage them to try out our 100 Acts of Kindness or consider how they might be able to help causes that matter to them with our family fundraising ideas.

At Tooled Up, we work hard to help you reflect on any barriers to participation that children may face and to let you know about new and exciting opportunities. On this subject, it’s worth checking out the webinar section of the library. It’s packed full of recordings of our webinars featuring experts including Holly Cram, who talked to us about nurturing young athletes, sports nutritionist Dan Richardson and Susan Smith from All Things Careers, who told us all about the amazing opportunities offered by degree apprenticeships and the best ways to survive the university application process, not to mention numerous webinars with leading experts on different aspects of mental health.

The Tooled Up library is already packed with almost 350 evidence-based resources, including interviews with over 80 leading experts from around the world. But, it’s your library and we want to know how else we can help you? What new resources would you like to see? Which ones do you love? What could we do better? We always value your feedback and want to ensure that we are giving you the resources that you need.

Email us at to let us know how we are doing!