We all want our children to be happy and not suffer heartaches. So we are often overprotective and rush to fix problems for them. If the teacher was unfair, we will sort her out. If you are not picked for the team, we will take it up with the coach. If you have a fight, we will complain to their mother.
The problem is that when we are over-protective or over-intervene, no matter how well intended, we retard our child’s learning to cope with disappointments and failure. We hinder their development of resilience.
So what can you do when you really want the best for your child? Try the following to boost your child’s resilience:
1. Praise what they do and not what they are
The way you praise your children conveys subtle messages that impacts on their resilience (more here). Trying to boost their self-esteem by telling them that they are clever or beautiful leads them to give up in the face of difficulties.
In contrast, praising the processes they use — their effort and strategy — boosts their resilience. Even when they not doing well, praise their persistence and encourage them to give it another go.
2. Teach them to trust their emotions
Learning to get in touch with their emotions is an important part of developing into adulthood. The best thing you can do is to teach your child that having feelings, even strong negative feelings, is normal and not a problem. What is important however, is how they express the feeling through their behaviour.
I have found that children, even as young as four years of age, find the three-step tortoise or turtle technique for dealing with strong negative feelings very helpful:
a. Go into your shell and take deep breaths
b. Think of solutions
c. Only come out of your shell when you are ready to solve the problem.
3. Let them make their own decisions
Be very cautious of jumping in with a solution to your child’s problem, even when they ask you. You disempower your child if they don’t make their own decisions. Rather ask your child: “What do you think you could do?” Once you have their ideas, even if they are impractical or dangerous, ask questions to probe the implications, such as: “I wonder what would happen if you did that?” That will help them develop insight and ultimately better decision-making.
Making good decisions and being responsible in life starts with having responsibility. It’s naturally important that the responsibility is child-appropriate, and can be as simple as putting a cereal box at a low level to allow them to make their own breakfast in the morning.
4. Allow them to fail
A bad decision or a mistake to a child can seem like the end of the world. Let your child understand that whilst you will always love them, you may not approve of or love their behaviour. Help them change their thinking with the three powerful questions (more here):
a. How can I accept this?
b. What can I learn from this?
c. Is there an opportunity?
5. Help them develop real friendships
Having social support is very important. Encourage your children to spend time with children from families who have similar values to yours. Friendships are developed with people that you spend time with, and this applies to children to.
6. Encourage them be themselves
Feeling loved and supported by their mother or father, or both, enables the child to feel secure to express their fears without worrying about being ridiculed. Young boys need parents who allow them to be just young boys, and not have expectations to be “tough” or anything else. Young girls need parents who are kind and supportive to balance destructive messages they receive from media and society about their role, body shape, attractiveness and friendships.
Raising resilient children is not rocket science. It does however require a deliberate strategy, and the challenge I would like to put to you is: what are you doing to boost your children’s resilience?
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