Tips of Helping Our Kids Learn Resilience
As parents, it is only natural to want to protect our children from harm. But just like with everything in life, even good things have to be done in moderation. One of the most important things we can do for our children is to prepare them for a life without us. Inevitably, there will be a day when we as parents will no longer be available for our children, either due to old age, illness or disability, or due to passing away.
I know, it is not a pleasant thing to think about. But by finding a balance between age-appropriate independence, and protection, we help our kids become confident in their abilities. They can become confident not only in the abilities to achieve things, but ALSO in their ability to bounce back from problems or setbacks.
As therapists, we see a wide range of parenting styles. Although there is no perfect way to parent, there are some patterns we recommend so that you can maintain a balance and help your kids learn resilience. Here are some common examples of ways to balance your interactions with your kids, in order to help them become resilient over time:
- Try to avoid projecting your own feelings onto them. Let them sit in discomfort.
We all have some emotional baggage from our own upbringing that we bring to our relationship with our children. For example, if you were bullied in your youth, you may be hypervigilant towards how others speak to your kids. Simple playground tiffs are essential for decision-making and conflict-resolution skills, but if you enter the conflict prematurely, then you may be restricting your child from learning what their boundaries are. Another example of projecting your own feelings onto your kids may involve being overly swayed by their reactions to things. If you notice your child is crying and upset because they were told they could not have a cookie, then it is okay to allow them to feel upset. You can certainly comfort them, but giving them the cookie in order to take away their discomfort will reduce their ability to tolerate difficult feelings. It is our job to comfort, guide, support, and protect. But it is not our job to make them feel “happy” all the time.
- Remember that they are growing and developing and may need more guidance than you think
I know, this seems to contradict the first example. But it is all about balance! Just like there are some parents who worry and protect too much, there are also some parents who have expectations that are too high based on their child’s unique developmental stage. Sometimes parents become upset when their child makes a wrong or unwise decision, or when they are in a bad mood. Pushing a child to do more than they are capable of, or becoming overly upset towards children when they cannot follow through on a task, can lead them to feel burnt out when they believe their best efforts are futile. Remember that learning is a lifelong process. Seeing your kids for who they are can help you figure out what they need guidance with, and what they can do for themselves. No child is exactly the same, and adapting to their needs can make a world of difference.
- Find humor in all types of situations, and lead by example
We have all made mistakes, and we have all been embarrassed at some point or another. We have all learned expensive lessons, and we have had friendships come and go. As difficult as it is, facing the negative situations head-on can help our kids process their feelings. Our kids are watching us and observing how we react to things. If we can find humor in a negative situation, and if we can talk openly about our strengths and weaknesses, then we can foster an environment in which kids feel safe talking about the good, bad, and neutral things. Normalizing mistakes, and encouraging them to keep trying or keep working at things sets the foundation for a life full of gratitude, acceptance, and resilience.
- Help them develop tools for self regulation and remember it is NOT about you.
Kids will be kids. Many times they are going to make decisions and actions that will not make any sense to you. Other times you would have a stressful day and a little mistake is going to feel like a huge one. If you run into a situation where you lose your temper, it is important to repair what happened. Show them how to self regulate and teach them skills to do it on their own, when they need to. Especially if they see you doing it, they will learn to become more resilient and are less likely to have temper tantrums themselves.
Please remember to also be an example for self-advocacy and extra assertiveness when needed. Sometimes we absolutely need someone to help us escape a situation, or to protect us from imminent danger. There is a time and a place for immediate protection, as well as for resilience-building in smaller doses.