Over the last few years, has any skill been shown to be more necessary than resiliency? Through economic uncertainty, a global pandemic, emotional loss, and all the other hardships life has thrown our way, our collective resilience has been tested many times. How we bounce back from adversity is key to navigating an ever-changing world. Knowing this, it’s natural for many parents to start wondering: what can we do to raise resilient kids?
Typically, resiliency is a skill forged through overcoming adversity. But this creates an interesting dilemma, as a parent’s role is often to remove roadblocks and adversity from their child’s way so they can pursue their goals and dreams. How can a parent provide a stable, supportive household that also provides healthy adversity to overcome and pushes a child to achieve more tomorrow than they did today?
There are so many answers to this question that I decided to list many of them out. Often, it’s not a case of throwing kids in the deep end and hoping they’ll make it out, but instead providing a bedrock of support so they don’t ever feel like failure is something to be afraid of. Here are my top 10 ways to raise resilient kids in a constructive way.
1. Bedrock of Support
Nothing matters more than being there for our children. Kids will always fear failure if they believe they will be punished for it. Resilience is about confronting failure and not being disheartened by it. It’s about doing our best and when that fails, trying it again tomorrow. A parent who discourages their child from confronting adversity does a disservice to their child’s development. A parent who instead provides love and support during moments of adversity proves the strength of having a support network so that their child’s failures aren’t destructive, but instead become moments of growth. As this NY Times article says, “In order to weather a storm, you need a solid shelter.”
What this support looks like will be different for every family, but for some examples, take a look at my recent article about supporting children’s interests. It details how a parent can be present without being overbearing and how children can feel challenged without getting discouraged. All the examples there are great lessons for raising resilient kids who can be successful later in life.
2. Small Challenges
Not every chance to raise resilient kids to be a do-or-die scenario. Small, daily challenges provide ample opportunity for preparing for larger stakes. Start with small improvements. Maybe your child wants to improve their grades in a difficult class. Start with one letter grade at a time. Help them study and manage their time so they can work on their goal constructively. An important step here is making sure you are up to date on what your kid’s goals are, big or small. Communication is vital to ensure that your help is being used on something they’re truly passionate about and not just something you want for them.
Micro goals, especially, are a continuing trend in education and in the wellness community. Look for an article on them in the future as part of my wellness series.
3. Emotion Recognition
Emotion recognition and self-management are both a huge part of resiliency. Adversity leads to a lot of difficult, heavy emotions. Teaching your kids that it’s okay to feel emotional after failure and that these emotions don’t have the power to keep them from trying again are both keys to resilience. Unacceptable displays of emotion after adversity like tantrums and sulking should be discouraged. The Hoppy & Poppie PinkCheeks books are designed to teach emotion recognition starting from an early age, but I’ve written extensively about ways parents can cultivate this skill besides just my books.
4. Know When to Ask for Help
Often we don’t ask for help until it’s too late. People love stories about the sole entrepreneur who dropped everything and won it all, but life doesn’t work that way for everyone. Many people rely on having a support network of trusted friends and family and this is a lesson that is good to teach early. The value of having people in your life whom you can trust is part of resiliency. Knowing when adversity is beyond our control and when to ask for help is key to being a healthy adult.
Parents can demonstrate this for their child either by pointing out when you accept help from others or when you offer support to others. Whether it’s bringing a neighbor food on Thanksgiving or accepting clothing donations after your basement was flooded, these lessons in community-support and supporting others will go a long way for raising resilient kids.
5. Model Behaviors
Role modeling is no secret on this blog. I’ve recommended it for everything from developing meditation and wellness practices to preventing bullying to developing good electronic and device habits. The reason for this is that it works. Children are quick to copy behaviors they see from their parents as parents are a go-to example of what behaviors are acceptable. The apple doesn’t land far from the tree and the same is true for resiliency. When something small goes wrong, your response will dictate how your children respond later in life. In order to control your responses, it requires emotional regulation and self-awareness.
6. Don’t Accommodate Every Need
Navigating the difference between providing adequate support yet not accommodating every need is a tricky one. Most of us have heard the concept of the “Helicopter Parent.” As a parent, it’s our job to always be there for our children without coming to their rescue with every mistake they make. Also important is helping them learn skills that prevent the same mistakes from being repeated.
Even to this day with my oldest son at the age of 33, I remember the advice of his first grade teacher. During the first week of first grade, she told us not to bring forgotten items to school whether it be a lunchbox, homework, gym bag or winter coat. I loved the message she conveyed in that these things would be resilience in our children and no child is going to suffer severe consequences from their mistake in these scenarios. The empowering part of her advice for my son was her suggestion to keep a list of items on the wall next to the door we exited on school mornings, so that he could look at it and learn to mentally check off the items he needed to have with him. This is just one example of balancing the support without accommodating every need.
A parent who tries to control everything teaches their child that life is always within your control, which is not always the case. It’s your job to stay communicative and be upfront about challenges you’re facing, teaching your kid a lesson in emotional intelligence means teaching your child to reflect upon what it is they have control over and what it is that they don’t.
7. Letting Kids Handle Consequences
In a similar vein as our last example; if you intervene on their behalf all the time, you’re going to raise a child that expects that same intervention when they’re an adult. Again, there’s a huge difference between caring for a child’s essential needs and giving them the space to confront adversity and learn consequences from their own actions. A child who breaks their favorite toy after being told not to play so rough needs to learn to deal with the consequences of what they’ve done. Instead of buying them a new one immediately, allow them the space to understand that having to play with less fun toys is a consequence of their choices and they’re going to have to adapt to that. Use these opportunities to have conversations which encourage your child to reflect and understand what actually happened. But remember to avoid the conservation resulting in feelings of shame, guilt and/or fear. You want the result to be that your child feels more empowered to make better choices for themselves next time.
It can be physically, mentally and emotionally painful for many parents to sit idly by while their children deal with consequences, but unless they’re in actual danger, it’s in their best interest to experience the consequences, both good and bad, from their actions.
8. Avoid Asking WHY
Kids aren’t always logical or predictable. You may know your kid well, but kids change, sometimes overnight. It’s a parent’s job to be aware of this behavior and not to try to correct or control them, but to observe and adjust to them. Kids make mistakes all the time, but asking them why they did them is a conversation that will often lead nowhere. “Why did you drop the bowl of cherries?” has an answer: they’re a kid and kids drop things sometimes. Instead of asking “why,” ask them “what” and/or “how.” What happened when you dropped the bowl of cherries?” or “How will this mess get cleaned up?” The goal of asking them questions is to increase their emotional intelligence; for example, their self-awareness, self-regulation, adaptability, social-awareness, empathy and relationship management. They have to figure out their own path through life and by trusting them to do so you help your kid build that resiliency.
9. Change is Opportunity
Change is a common source of childhood adversity. Divorce, death, different schools, moving, etc. are all pivotal moments in childhood. How their parents react to change makes all the difference on how a child will remember these moments. The opportunity of change should always be emphasized, but it’s natural to expect negative emotional reactions to confronting the challenge of life’s impermanence. Use them as teaching moments by practicing empathy and compassion. If you experience your child taking their emotions out on you or anyone else, have a conversation with your child about what is observed and happening. Help them navigate the storm. After they gain understanding, they will be more apt to be able to put themselves in the shoes of those they are hurting by their unregulated emotions.
10. Own Up to Your Mistakes
This one can be very difficult for some people, but it’s important to acknowledge when we’ve made mistakes as parents. After all, parents are only humans. If our children understand that we can make mistakes, they will begin to see that mistakes are okay and an unavoidable part of life. It’s how we react to and handle the repercussions of our mistakes that’s important. But if you constantly cover up your errors and refuse to acknowledge them, kids will grow up thinking that failure is unacceptable in any form and something to be ashamed of. This is the opposite of resiliency and will make facing challenges difficult later in life.
That wraps up our 10 ways to raise a resilient kid for today. I hope these tips have proven to be helpful for raising resilient kids. This is a skill that is so important to learn at a young age and is only going to become more necessary in the future. How are you all hoping to build resiliency within yourselves and raise your children successfully? I’d love to hear your strategies in the comments below!