Raising Resilient Children
Resilience is an important factor in predicting not only our success in life but ultimately our happiness and our contribution. We will face difficulties. That is wired into the fabric of life. To think that we can avoid struggle and challenge is naïve.
How our children handle those difficulties will, in large part, direct their destiny.
Resilience: The Concept
The concept here is very simple. For years, it was believed that when children were exposed to adversity or difficulty, they become overwhelmed. It was assumed that they would then go forth into life with a handicap that impaired them in their ability to cope with the everyday demands of living.
Resilience developed out of a line of research that began to look at how children appeared to “bounce back” from extreme adversity or tragedy. Over the years, researchers found that this was not unusual, but instead was a common occurrence. The data now argue that children (mostly) go forward to live healthy, productive lives, even after the most tragic childhood experiences.
So why is this concept so important?
Because, for a variety of reasons, we have tended to evolve a parenting model where we view children as fragile and vulnerable. As parents, we find ourselves wanting to protect them from the least little difficulty or upset, and often whisk them off to therapy after a difficult event or encounter. If not therapy, we may spend hours upon hours having a dialogue with our kids over the slightest upset.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that we shouldn’t be concerned about our kids if they encounter trauma or adversity. We should be concerned. It’s simply that we need to have faith that they will get through this, and start with this fundamental belief that your child WILL get through this. Believe, if not know, they will grow stronger and better from this as you offer them help.
For most of us, it’s not trauma or extreme adversity that challenges our children. It’s the everyday challenges and disappointments of life. A disappointing grade. Failure to make the team. Peers who have a party and don’t invite your son. A teacher who doesn’t seem to ‘get’ your child. These are the more typical challenges to everyday resilience.
Regardless of the level of challenges, what we don’t need to do is treat them as if they’re fragile as if they are possibly scarred for life. This is, in fact, the opposite of what we need to do.
We need a parenting strategy that presumes strength and contains our belief in their strength and resilience. With that in place, we can begin to nurture resilience.
Building Everyday Resilience
1. Have Faith in Your Child
This is the core starting point. It is difficult to fake it if you have deep worries about your child’s internal strength and don’t believe in them. If you hold the belief of weakness, how can you give them the gift of strength? It’s very tough to fake this.
In fact, if you don’t have faith, you will be likely to make several mistakes that undermine resilience, as outlined below.
2. Don’t Try to Build Them UP.
When you are constantly trying to ‘build’ their esteem or confidence, this becomes the ultimate vote of non-confidence to your child’s psyche. It’s as if your child has a radar that detects that you are trying too hard.
The repeated efforts to build them up also begins to fail with obvious clarity over time. Your children do not hold onto the comments. In fact, they begin to fight and argue for their weakness…while you argue for their strength. (This is an important pointer that you are on the wrong path!)
Be clear about your belief in them, and their capabilities. However, don’t fight or argue with them. Instead, be disinterested in any repeated convictions or comments that would undermine resilience. Don’t give your energy or attention to these repeatedly, or else…you feed them. You will see that they just keep growing…if you keep fighting them.
Thus, have strong faith in your child and be clear with them about that. But don’t try to persuade them. They must discover that truth.
3. Don’t Protect Them from Challenge or Disappointment
Resilience is learned from the developmentally appropriate challenges children experience. This is key to understand. We don’t want them to struggle or fail or be disappointed, but these experiences are part of life…and are essential building blocks to internal strength.
Thus instead, allow them to stretch and find that life doesn’t turn out their way every time. And this is good learning.
Of course, you are there to support and coach them through this, but don’t linger in the disappointment or suffering with them. Instead, allow them to have their moments. They will find their way through.
Is There More?
Of course, there is more to building internal strength. However, these are the essential building blocks, and important to master. These steps lay the critical foundation, so just try it…and wait a few weeks. Do this before you seek more, such as therapy or intervention.