How well does your child deal with adversity, cope in difficult situations, become stronger after disappointments? In other words, how resilient is she? We often think that our job is to protect our children from the tough situations of life, but in fact, our protection helps only us. We don’t want to hear their anger, experience their sadness, or deal with their disappointment. In many cases, we were not allowed those feelings so we don’t know how to allow our children to have them. They may frighten us—so we make sure they don’t have them. When we prevent these 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 we:
Trust our child’s ability to handle difficult problems
Convey in words and body language confidence in their ability to cope
Allow and accept their feelings of sadness, fear, anger, disappointment over situations they cannot change
Do not jump in to rescue them or fix situations that cause their frustration in order to avoid our own fears
Balance our own wants and needs with theirs, which will inevitably cause their frustration and disappointment
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 overprotection 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 with those feelings. They need to know they are normal.
Many situations are too much for children to handle: a school environment that puts on too much pressure, a truth that is too much to handle, 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 cause natural feelings. Allowing those feelings does not mean changing the situation or giving in to make them happy. Their ability and opportunity to feel sustains their resilience to move past the feelings.
Never have I experienced such a collective button being pushed than with Amy Chua’s revelatory story of how she raised her two girls the Chinese way. Is it the threat we feel when she throws western parenting under the bus? This is what happens to anyone of us when we feel blamed, disdained, or put down. We get defensive and either take it in as defeat or fight back. Exactly what our children do when we blame them. We are clearly getting our hackles up as she puts down what we do, especially what we have doubts about doing.
I just finished the book, and I must say I found her unabashedly honest about her dictatorial methods that would make the hair on anyone’s neck stand straight up—methods she says would be seen even as illegal in the western culture. I have a hard time believing that most Chinese mothers would say the things that Chua said to her girls. Her story points out many things we can learn from. Her girls are as different as night and day attesting to such different temperaments. Her oldest went along with and apparently agreed to go along with her mother’s style. It pushed her to reach her greatness. Her youngest took more than I would expect rebelling all along the way to which Chua’s very Chinese mother even gave warning. This daughter’s final straw came in public in Red Square in Moscow when she screamed our worst nightmare at her mother—a point to which she was driven by a mother who just would not listen.
It is important for all parents to hold high expectations of their children—as long as they can meet them successfully. But children are different. Not all can come in first or be the best. But even though her younger daughter could be the best, she didn’t want to be. The cost was too great for her—she was missing out on other aspects of a life she knew she would enjoy more. The question is what are after for our children? Is performance the key? Do we want our children to be the best at the risk of being a well-rounded person. So, yes, we should push our children to the point of “optimal distress” according to David Palmitter of Marywood University in Scranton, PA; not to the point of no return. It is important for children to be pushed or push themselves through a good deal of frustration, disappointment, and even defeat so they achieve true self-esteem through perseverance and accomplishment. But the push should not go so far as to cause such discouragement that a child gives up trying. Expectations need to be realistic and fit the child.
What Chua has that is evident is 100% belief in her daughters’ capability and strength. And 100% confidence in herself. This strength is a lesson we can take from this book. Western parenting falls short due to lack of self-confidence and trust in our children. When that dips, fears take over and loom large enough to fill us with doubt and inconsistencies. These trip us up every time. Chua’s strength and her evident love for her girls, which underlies all her retributions is what holds the family together.
I do believe that accomplishments of greatness can be achieved in a kind, respectful, non-blaming, and fully supportive environment. Let us find a balance. We can stand to gain a great deal more confidence in ourselves and our children while at the same time focusing on the importance of strength in relationship. I always want my children to see me as a source of love, support, and advice. That was always my barometer as I brought them up. Is what I am saying building or breaking connection? At 32 and 28, they still gain from that connection. I feel good about the strength of our relationships as well as proud of their accomplishments. We can find answers in moderation and balance without swinging to extremes.