Raising Resilient Children
Webster defines resiliency as: “The ability to withstand or recover from difficult conditions.”
Think of all of the people you know. Some are more flexible than others and able to adjust to new situations and overcome obstacles that get in their way. They adapt.
Others are resistant to change and new situations that make them uneasy. They are afraid to make mistakes and therefore hesitant to take risks and try something new.
Some of these personality characteristics may be inherited but many times the difference can be how we were brought up.
“It is not whether you get knocked down – but whether you get back up.”
– Vince Lombardi
Was independence encouraged when you were growing up? Many young children are able to dress themselves if allowed the opportunity to do so. Sometimes their pants may be backwards and their socks inside out, but as long as they are safe does it really matter?
We often hear parents describe power struggles with their children regarding decisions over what to eat and wear. These disagreements regarding whether your 6-year-old should wear a coat will usually end if you allow them to play outside on a cold day. If they are cold, they will almost always come back inside for a coat. Providing your child with healthy snack choices; an apple, yogurt or an orange, gives them the opportunity for decision-making and a feeling of independence. These choices give parents the comfort of knowing their child is eating healthy food.
Permitting your child to make age-appropriate decisions and then allowing them to realize the consequences can help children become both independent as well as resilient.
Did your parents encourage taking risks and trying new things? Not such as sky diving of course, but trying a brand new sport or having a new friend over for a play date. When they are older trying theatre or the debate team – something they have never attempted before. Or taking a new class in school that may seem overwhelming?
Our middle son (a freshman in high school) begged to take several difficult classes, we were hesitant but agreed to allow him this decision. It was a risk because when you are in high school your grade point “counts” with regards to college admissions. Turns out he relished the challenge and worked harder than ever to do well. It was his decision – and because of this he had a vested interest in succeeding.
Encourage your children to challenge themselves when possible. Set high but realistic expectations and expect them to do well. Expose your child to many experiences such as music concerts, museums, sporting events and theatre. Lead by example and try new things taking a few risks yourself!
“If you never try, you will never know.” – Unknown
Was making mistakes considered something to avoid at all costs or a chance to learn something new? This attitude shift of not fearing mistakes but learning from them is essential. Parents do a disservice to their children by rescuing them from challenges. If they don’t make mistakes, how will they learn?
Create an environment where, whenever possible, children can solve their own problems.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new.”
– Albert Einstein
Disappointment. This is huge. So many parents don’t want their children to experience disappointment. Not getting the latest toy that ALL of their friends have. Not being invited to a birthday party. Not making the travel baseball team. We rush in to fill every whim and desire children have. This is one of the worst things parents can do in attempting to encourage resiliency in their children.
Instead, talk to your children about how they feel. Show and teach empathy – that you understand that they are sad and disappointed. Teach them techniques for dealing with disappointment. Counting the many good things they have to be thankful for. Asking them how they could do it differently next time. If your child is in a place where they are able to listen, share a story of a disappointment you had growing up. Your honesty will help them understand that disappointment is a natural part of life.
Many times a parents’ job will be to sit quietly with your arm around your child’s shoulder. I speak from experience when I say these disappointments in life are often times as hard or harder on the parents as they are on the child. It may seem absolutely brutal to watch your child struggle with disappointment, but it is of course a fact of life.
The important factor here is that your child learns that they have someone that loves them standing quietly by their side.
Resilient individuals take responsibility for both their successes as well as for their failures. Blaming others seems to have become more prevalent in recent times. In sports we blame the referee for a teams loss instead of the efforts by the players themselves. We blame teachers for a child’s academic setbacks instead of asking what we as parents can do to help and improve the situation.
Help teach your children that they are ultimately responsible for the choices they make. Did your child leave his toy outside and it was ruined or stolen? Were they paying attention when homework was assigned in class? Are they kind to friends and treat others with respect?
Our lives are the direct result of the choices we make. My brother-in-law, Jeff always has the same line when his two twin boys are going out to play: “Make good choices!” What a wonderful message for these boys to contemplate.
As parents we should practice what we preach and take responsibility for our actions and choices as well.
So with all of this disappointment and all of these mistakes happening at your house children are going to need a network of support. That is where you come in. You are not solving their problems or bailing them out, but you are there to listen and empathize. Parents can teach patience and empathy as well as provide unconditional love and support. Standing quietly by their side whenever needed.
Teaching resiliency is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child.