Recently, one of my children called and asked me to come and get him from school because he was having a bad day. Within a few minutes, we were sitting in a quiet office chatting about what was going on and how I could help. I gave him space to express what he was going through and then helped him brainstorm some strategies for solving the problem. And then, I walked him back to class instead of bringing him home and told him I was proud of him for sticking it through.
One of the hardest things about being a parent is seizing learning opportunities especially when you are busy or tired! On this particular day, I was reminded why it is so important to slow down and take advantage of these precious moments. What we teach our children today becomes the habits of tomorrow. In an increasingly complex and connected world, one of the most important things we can teach our children is to how to be tough. I’m not talking about the “rub some dirt in it” kind of tough but the kind of mental toughness that helps kids bounce back from bad days. Someday, those kids become teens and young adults who need resilience more than ever!
Here are 5 ways you can help your children build resilience:
- Regulate Emotion. Children (tweens, teens, and adults, too) can get easily overwhelmed by big emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, or sadness. Our children are not only learning to regulate their emotions (ever dealt with a frustrated toddler?!?), but they are also learning what emotions are and what role they play. I can’t count the times I have heard a child say that they were afraid to tell their parents, a teacher, or their peers how they felt because they were embarrassed or had been ridiculed in the past. Have you ever heard someone say, “there is no reason to be crying”? I know that I am guilty of saying a variant of this phrase. Providing a place where feelings are acknowledged, identified, and supported is a great way to teach resilience. For example, “It sounds like you are really frustrated” or “I can tell you are sad” acknowledge and reflect back emotion. It also provides a platform for de-escalating behaviors associated with overwhelming feelings. Another example, “I can tell you are really frustrated and I’m ready to listen when you are calm”.
- Normalize Challenges. Ever had a bad day? Lose a job, experience a health crisis, or worse? Unfortunately, our children will, too. Helping your child see that setbacks are a normal part of life will help them see that those challenges won’t last forever and that with support and ingenuity they can overcome those challenges, too.
- Allow Failure. This has been so hard for me especially as my children have moved into their teen years. Heck, it is hard for me to fail as an adult! But it is a lot easier to learn from failure when there are safe hands to help you back up when you fall. Notice that I didn’t say “catch you when you fall” in that statement? When we allow failure when our children are small, they are more likely to be resilient when they fail again and even more likely to learn from earlier mistakes. For example, one of my high schoolers has forgotten his required pass to get in and out of the school. The office requires collateral (a phone or backpack for example) in exchange for a temporary pass. It would be less embarrassing for him and wouldn’t require collateral if I simply brought him the pass from home. I won’t. If I rescue him over a school pass, then he won’t know failure as a learning opportunity. This same pattern is necessary for other things, too. Teen drivers getting into car accidents, losing a football game, and forgetting a school paper are all opportunities to help our children fail and own their mistakes with our love and support as we help them stand back up.
- Teach Flexibility and Adaptability. In a world that changes constantly, it is critical to teach our children to be flexible and adaptable. Things are not always going to go as planned. For children that might be a change in what is for dinner, a cancelled play date, or maybe someone cut in line at the playground. Flexibility and adaptability help children see that stuff happens but with a little problem solving and a good attitude, it won’t ruin their entire day.
- Open Communication Lines. Remember when my son called me because he needed help at school? He knew that I was a safe person to both express emotion and ask for help. There will be harder days ahead and I want to make sure my children always know that I am there to listen. I cannot count the number of late-night conversations I have had with teenagers who were dealing with heavy stuff or the number of times I have called my own mom to seek her advice. When we open communication lines, it is more likely that our children will reach out to us when they need us most. And trust me, in this world, they will need you! Because if they don’t have you, they will seek out others who may not always have their best interests at heart.
Helen Keller once said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it”. The building blocks of resilience – regulating emotion, normalizing challenges, teaching flexibility, allowing failure, and open communication – aren’t developed overnight. They are skills that are part of everyday learning in our homes and through our habits. Building resilient children today makes them overcomers tomorrow.