Raising Resilient Kids

Raising Resilient Kids

Resilience is defined as the ability to recover one’s strength, health, or success after failure.  

Remember how your child was so cute and messy when she first tried to feed herself? How she missed getting food into her mouth again and again until she succeeded?

That’s resilience.

Risk, discovery, acceptance, and resilience

We all begin life with the drive to keep going no matter how many times or how hard we fall. Our parents never dreamed of stopping us from learning to feed ourselves. They knew we needed to keep trying in order to learn.  No one said stop that before you make a mess or let me do it for you.

Instead, we were lovingly encouraged to keep going when we missed. Somewhere this changed.

As we grew up, our parent’s unconditional support of our mistakes faded. By the time we were four, most of us felt our parent’s impatience and irritation at our more spirited play.

We dampened our sense of adventure

We quickly figured out how to avoid this. We dampened our sense of adventure in order to appease our parents. We became “good” and stopped taking so many playful risks that could lead to “mistakes”. Some of us learned to be ashamed or afraid of consequences.  We became more cautious.

Errors became socially dangerous

Soon we ventured out into the world of daycare, school, and friendships.

We socialized. We had to adapt, fit in and be cool. We were judged, teased or blamed by our peers for our failures. Errors became socially dangerous. Over time, we began to lose the valuable experience of taking risks, fixing problems, bouncing back, and trying again.  As we lost our resilience we lost our brightest capacity to grow, discover and be our original selves.

As parents, we want to spare our children from this tragedy. We want our kids to have plenty of bounce, to be able to take risks and repair mistakes so they can have expansive, rich, vibrant and fulfilling lives.

The good news is that we can teach our children to be resilient

The good news is that we can teach our children to be resilient

The cycle of resilience.                                                                                                          

Resilience builds from a pattern of taking risks, learning from our mistakes, and applying what we’ve learned to the next risk.  

The key step is that parents coach their kids through this cycle while providing unconditional acceptance.

This means no blaming, shaming, scolding or lecturing.  When parents are friendly mentors, children learn two valuable life lessons:

  • risk-taking and repair are safe, and a means of emotional connection.
  • This can be taught to children from age two onwards.

The supported risk is a term that implies the child has a network of support surrounding any risk they take. Parents have determined that the risk of failure is non-harmful and provides a teaching experience.                                                           

This parallels Jim Fay’s and Foster Clines’ philosophy called Love and Logic. Their groundbreaking parenting books, the Love and Logic series, call attention to the need for parental support with their children’s “fixable mistakes.”

Talking points

  • Where do you allow your child to take supported risks?
  • What other supported risks could your child take?
  • What supported risks did your parents let you take?

Learning from risks

Kids need to learn from every risk that they take. This is how kids mature. This is how they learn to make good decisions and take care of themselves. When kids make mistakes, parents need to take advantage of two powerful teaching points.

Skills

Parents need to take the time to instruct the child in repairing from their risk so the child learns a new skill.

For example, if your three-year-old artist draws a crayon picture on your wall, he helps you clean it up. If she destroys your favorite magazine, you teach her to tape the pages back in place so you can finish reading it. When your teen dents the car, they earn money to cover the deductible and help you with the insurance paperwork.

Wisdom

Children are naturally wise. We don’t need to teach it as much as recognize that it’s already present and work to keep it alive.

Wisdom withers unless it is kept active. Wisdom grows when it’s evoked through gentle parental questions such as “What would you do differently next time?” “Can you teach me what you discovered?”

Parents need to have an attitude of kindness and curiosity when asking these questions. Parents allow the child be the expert rather than saying the soul-slamming,“I told you so.” Parents need to assume that their child is wise, and ask questions that are directed at this wisdom.

This keeps their child’s wisdom alive.

Talking points

Describe a story of how you recently taught your child a skill or helped them to catch an insight after they made a mistake.

What other mistakes does your child make that could be used to teach them wisdom or a skill?

How did your parents teach you a skill, or let you figure out an insight after you made a mistake?

How do you maintain your parental patience when your kids make mistakes?

Unconditional acceptance

Kids lose their resilience when they equate their curiosity with shame, punishment or a loss of parental acceptance. Kids grow up to be bold and creative when they know that their parents accept them despite their mistakes.

Showing unconditional acceptance while being angry, fearful or frustrated is a communication skill most parents have to work at.  An example of what this sounds like is, “I am very angry that you set fire to the kitchen while cooking and I still love you. Let’s clean it up”.

Talking points

Tell a story of how you demonstrated unconditional acceptance, even when you were angry. What did you say or do?

Tell a story of when your parents or other adult accepted you, but not your antics when you were young. What did they say or do?

Parental self-talk and resilience

Children live up to the expectations that parents set. Kids absorb our beliefs about them and then act as though they are true.

Below are some examples of parental thinking and self-talk that suffocate the development of resilience.  These quotes reflect themes of viewing the child as helpless, stupid, malicious, and incompetent.

It’s vital that we shift our parental attitudes in order to redirect our kids toward resilience. But if you find yourself agreeing with the quotes in column A, you can use these insights to build a more open approach.

          RESILIENCE DESTROYERS              RESILIENCE BUILDERS
I don’t have time to teach them how to fix their problems My time is the best investment I can      make in my kids
    I want to make life easier for them Their lives will be easier if I teach them to be resilient
Their life is too competitive and they can’t afford to make mistakes Because life is competitive they need to see mistakes as springboards, not obstacles
   It’s easier on me to just do it for them I cripple them each time I do it for them
Risk taking is dangerous Not knowing how to take or handle risks will stunt them. It’s my job to provide growth through supported risks  
The social pressure is so intense; I have to help my kids. It’s my job to gently coach them, not to help them
Society punishes kids who make mistakes and I can’t have that! Society rewards people who have been taught how to use their mistakes as springboards to greater success
Fix a problem? My kids make problems, they can’t possibly fix a thing! Mistakes are a learning opportunity and it’s my job to teach them how to fix their mistakes.

Talking  points

Which of the statements above best describe your parent’s attitude?

Your attitude?

Describe a story from childhood of how your parents or other adult took a risk, ran into a problem, and fixed a mistake.

How did they act? Did they use blame or open encouragement to help fix the problem? How do you or will you teach resilience to your kids?

List a few supported risks you allow your kids to make

Describe what they learned from their errors. A new skill?  A life lesson?

Where are your children most resilient? Socially? Sports? Academics? Inventing things?

Reflect on how your community, friends, faith group, colleagues, neighbors support developing resilience in kids. With some conscious work, your children will automatically change as you adopt a more dynamic, open attitude.

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Valerie Keim
Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT
  VERIFIED EXPERT
I work with successful women and couples. Women, everyone thinks you have it all together, but inside you know differently. Anxiety hits at the worst moments. A rude coworker or a nasty comment from your spouse can make you feel 5 years old again. At work, your Imposter Syndrome gets in the way of speaking your mind and living your full potential, and at home, your relationship isn’t as fulfilling as you’d like, but you don’t have the confidence to rock the boat. I help women just like you rediscover their strength and intuition and live bigger, more powerful lives! Speaking of power, many couples I see don’t think of themselves as “Power Couples,” but both partners are smart, educated, and successful. Everyone thinks you have it all…but you can’t stop arguing. You worry that your fights are impacting the kids, but you’re stuck in this cycle and the resentments run deep. Is there hope for your marriage? Yes. I help couples funnel all that anger into deep and powerful conversations. You’ll understand each other more fully, remember why you fell in love, and bring your marriage back to happiness again. I’ll help you stop arguing in front of the kids and get clear on why you’re arguing in the first place. You’re on your way to a better life!

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