When Life Throws Punches, How Resilient is Your Child?
How well does your child handle adversity, cope in difficult situations, become even stronger after disappointments? In other words, how resilient is she? So often with all best intentions of being a good parent, we inadvertently make it harder for our children to manage life and cause a dependence on someone else to solve their problems.
We often think that our job is to protect our children from the tough situations of life, but in fact, our protection helps us more than them. We don’t want to hear their anger, experience their sadness, or deal with their disappointment if that triggers feelings of failure in our parenting. In many cases, we were not allowed those feelings as children, so we don’t know how to allow our children to have them. Protecting our kids helps us to feel we are doing a good job, but protection can hurt our child’s ability to bounce back.
When a child has negative feelings, they may frighten us—so we try to insure they don’t have them. When we prevent or rescue our children from tough experiences, we diminish their resilience, their ability to cope with life’s inevitable frustrations and situations beyond their control.
Building resilience in children requires that you:
- Trust your children’s ability to handle difficult problems. This may require a perceptual shift from seeing your small child as helpless and in need of you directing and teaching all the time. Children are way more capable than we give them credit for. Stand back and watch and give opportunities for small masteries.
- Convey in actions and body language your confidence in their ability to cope. Show don’t tell. That means allowing them to cope instead of jumping in, giving them the opportunity to experience the natural consequences of their choices and behavior. Convey that you believe in them and know they can get through whatever it is that comes their way—with your help and support when needed. This starts with separating from you to be in the care of another, allowing physical activities without yelling, “You’re going to hurt yourself”, dealing with bullies and cliques, handling school failures, managing homework.
- Allow and accept their feelings of sadness, fear, anger, disappointment over situations they cannot change. This requires that you not ‘give in’ in order to avoid the hassle of a meltdown. You do not have to do anything, simply be there and acknowledge and validate their experience and feelings.
- Do not jump in to rescue them or fix situations that cause their frustration in order to avoid your own fears. You may fear that your child cannot handle disappointment or the cruel words of another child. You may fear that without your droning on about homework, it will not get done and your child will fail. You may fear that if you do not yell 10 times, your child will never do what he is told.
- Balance your own wants and needs with theirs, which will inevitably cause their frustration and disappointment. For instance, you may not want to add on more driving for yet another activity but are afraid to say no, so you agree and inevitably feel resentful of all you do with no appreciation. Your needs and wants are as important as your child’s. Make sure you honor them so your child learns to honor them too.
Children are so much more capable of dealing with and solving problems than we give them credit for. Our natural sense of nurturing can easily switch to over-protection when we think we are responsible for our children’s happiness. We do not serve them by protecting them from unhappiness or telling them they shouldn’t feel what they are feeling. Let their tears flow, allow their anger and disappointment. You don’t have to do or change anything. Simply acknowledge and empathize so your children know their feelings and experiences are normal.
Many situations are too much for a child to handle: a school environment that puts on too much pressure, a truth that is too difficult to understand, etc. But life inevitably throws us situations beyond our control, and how well our children are able to get over them and move on depends on their resilience.
A schoolmate who taunts with a hurtful name, a desired toy you think inappropriate or unaffordable, a limit that feels unfair, all trigger natural, unpleasant feelings. When you allow those feelings to come out, your child learns in time how to understand and deal with them and eventually control them. Their ability and opportunity to feel sustains their resilience to move past the feelings.
Altering the situation, doing something to cheer your child up, nagging about homework and checking it, denying feelings in an attempt to get your child to see the positive, telling your child what to do and when to do it, or giving in to make him stop screaming, means you are rescuing your child from inevitable failures and disappointments, hence undermining resilience.
What all this means is that you can do less, make your parenting easier, feel less exhausted and drained by all you must do to get your child to … whatever, and in turn encourage the resilience your children will need for the rest of their lives.