I had two new experiences the past month, both involved students with special needs. One was blind, the other was born without an arm. Both had been outstanding at school and had won prestigious scholarships. Both secured places at renowned universities. Both showed remarkable resilience.
Many of us do not have such impairments but might be less resilient in life, yours truly included. Resilience is the capacity to get back to your feet from painful experiences. Failure, rejection, disappointment – you and I have gone through some kind of rough moments in varying degrees. How do we make ourselves more resilient? How do we teach our children to survive trying times, build their resilience muscle, become stronger at the end of it all?
There is not a single person who has never failed, never been rejected or never disappointed in some way. How you respond to such painful experiences either weaken or strengthen your resilience muscle. For children, they need guidance. This is why, it’s not a smart thing to be overly protective with children. It’s by surviving painful experiences that our children learn they are capable of facing the tough world out there.
Realize that failure, rejection and disappointment in no way reduces the person you are. All of us have a little voice in our head, an inner voice, a running commentary that evaluates what we go through. Kids have it, too. For some children, the inner voice is harsher than the rest. Take notice if your child says things like “I’m a loser”, “I am good at nothing”, “I am useless”. Tell her, “You are not your thoughts.” It is important for children to not give up on themselves, to keep on trying.
Painful experiences, little by little, are what kids need to grow their resilience muscle over time. It’s a rough world out there. Resist the urge to rescue your child straightaway. You and I won’t be there all the time to soothe all the hurts and wipe the tears. Yes, you can listen. Yes, you can offer words of support, but do not do more than necessary. It will only reduce your child’s trust and belief in herself. Just as an athlete grows his stamina by increasing the tasks he does bit by bit, so does a child expand his resilience by stretching himself emotionally and intellectually to overcome the obstacles in his way, without too much parental help.
How do you know if you’re doing too much or too little? Offer a little support, then see how it goes. Be sensitive to your child’s response. Each child is different. Some need more, others need less. It’s a matter of trial and error. No parent does it right all the time.
It is a mistake to think that childhood should be carefree. Childhood is the time for children to learn the rudiments of survival. Resilience is a learned behavior, after all. The sooner your child grows his resilience muscle, the better. Childhood is the period when the brain develops the most.
Equally important, as a parent, stay calm in difficult situations. Your child sees how your respond to tough moments. Staying calm despite your fears and anxiety sends a strong message to your child: You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to the circumstances you find yourself in. Your ability to pause and think instead of panicking will teach your child to remain tenacious in tough times. That’s a powerful lesson in resilience.
Featured image: Photo1