Can resiliency be taught to a child with no life experience? Sure, but parents must actively foster resilience in their kids. Usually individuals become resilient after they've endured hardships and disappointments. Kids, and especially white, cisgender kids who grow up in middle-class households, don't go through too many hardships. So while it's not too difficult to look up ways to raise resilient kids in today's world, we really won't know if these strategies work until our children are on their own and are experiencing some sort of struggle. But I say there's no harm in trying to do our best, as parents, to teach our kids the necessary skills that will allow them to bounce back when life kicks them down. Plus, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), building resilience gives your child the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress," and that can't be a bad thing.
I teach a college preparation course and, as part of the college admissions process, many colleges ask students to write personal essays about resiliency. When I taught that course in the suburbs, to mainly upper-middle class individuals, the students often struggled for the right words because, well, they've never faced any kind of hardship. Some students remember standing up to their bullies in middle school and others recall a time they failed a test or lost a game. But many of these kids didn't really understand resiliency. Many of their parents help with or do their projects and papers. Many intervene in their social lives and fight their battles. And hey, I get it. No parent wants to see her kid struggle and fail. But the truth is, kids have to struggle and fail in order to become resilient. Now that I teach in the city, the story is different. Many of my current students know how to handle adversity. Unfortunately, life trained them pretty early on.
I come from a family of immigrants. We had very little when we came to this country and my parents worked hard for everything we had. My brother and I always knew we couldn't have everything we wanted, and we realized our parents were doing the best they could. We were laughed at in school for wearing "weird" and mismatched clothes, which were donated to us. We had to get jobs as soon as we were old enough to obtain working papers. We had to pay our way through college, our own cars, and our own hobbies. Our parents gave us everything they could, but they couldn't afford many luxuries. So we learned quickly how to handle and persevere through a number of related hardships.
My kids, however, are growing up in a middle-class family. They have everything they need and want. They participate in enrichment activities. They go to one of the best rated schools in the country and they are spoiled. My partner and I don't try to spoil them. We don't buy them things or toys, but they are still spoiled by our environment. So, how do we teach them resiliency? Well, below are some of the ways we are trying to do just that:
Let Them Do Their Own School Work
A University of Arizona study found that "kids who were over-parented and weren't disappointed had an exaggerated sense of entitlement. They became adults who were less confident about overcoming challenges," and were less able to handle disappointment. In other words, parents who do their kids' homework and projects are doing a great disservice to their children.
My partner and I never help our daughter with homework, unless she really has no idea what to do. Our goal is to let her struggle with her work and we usually find that after a few minutes of frustration, she figures out the right answer, or an answer. We don't tell her how to spell words when she asks and, instead, encourage her to sound them out and write them down the way she thinks is correct. The point is to let her struggle and come up with her own solutions. Paul J. Donahue, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and leading consultant and expert in the field of parenting and children's mental health, says that children who "overcome hardship and learn to work hard in and out of school... are independent and disciplined, and have an internal sense of their own efficacy and abilities, do well in life." So, while many things are simply handed to our children, it's important for us to create mini situations for our kids to get frustrated and figure out how to handle their frustrations.
Give Them Chores
Toddlers love helping their parents. They really do. They aren't yet jaded by the drudgery of household chores and are excited when they feel their parents trust them enough to ask for their help. When they get older, however, kids start to resist housework. This is exactly the time when parents must be vigilant in making sure their kids help around the house. According to Psychology Today, accomplishing chores helps children feel like "part of the family" and like they're "contributing to all of our greater good."
While my daughter hates cleaning her room, she knows she cannot go play until her room is clean. She begrudgingly agrees to help me with laundry and dishes and vacuuming, but she does it because we have made it very clear that all people who live in this house will contribute to this house.
Donate & Volunteer Together
“Children who know that they have something to offer others will learn that they can shape the world around them for the better,” says Eric Greitens, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, a best-selling author, and a politician. Furthermore, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), children "can be empowered by helping others." Parents should try finding ways to involve their kids in charitable actions that are age-appropriate. My daughter and I like going through her clothes and toys and doing a donation a few times a year. We also purchase toys for underprivileged kids during the holidays and participate in various walks for charity throughout the year.
Let Them Fail & Talk About Failure
My daughter is currently struggling with math. And, honestly, the way math is taught these days, I'm surprised everyone isn't struggling. But, I digress.
We've discussed numerous ways to help her and how she can work on her own to get better at word problems. In addition to solutions, I've talked to her about my own struggles with math. When your children see an ally and realize they aren't alone, they can begin to see themselves and their struggles in a more positive light. It always helps to know you're not alone in this world.
Andrew Zolli, the author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, says parents should tell kids it's OK to fail and talk about their own failures. Parents can tell kids, "Sometimes you don’t win, that’s OK. You’re still loved by us and you don’t have to be good at everything."
Do Not Let Your Kid Quit
When we signed up our daughter for jiu jitsu, we were over the moon excited about how much she loved the activity. She was 5 and we had high hopes of raising a future MMA star. While she was continuously working on her skills, many of her friends went from one activity to the next. They tried something once or twice, and then they quit. They didn't like a lesson, so they quit. My husband and I decided we would never allow our daughter to quit unless the activity no longer made her happy. After some time, our daughter became somewhat resistant to going. After three years, we told her she did not have to go anymore. We realized she did not like the confrontational and combative nature of the sport.
I still sometimes regret letting her quit, but after she came home crying a few times, I felt as if I had no other choice. However, for three years we pushed her and taught her quitting was not an option and that we stand up in the face of adversity. We'd like to think of this as a break until she's a little older.
Support & Encourage Your Kids
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, says that in order to raise resilient kids parents can "start by showing children that they matter." She says that if children feel they do not make a difference to others, they may "feel rejected and alone." When parents foster their kids' mental health, however, the kids are "less likely to suffer from depression, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts" and are more likely to deal with set-backs in a confident manner.
Let Your Children Play On Their Own
This is where my lazy parenting wins. From the moment my kids were old enough to play on their own (and I'm talking about infants) I would sit back and relax and let them figure out who to entertain themselves. Part of the reason for my behavior was that I am perpetually lazy and the other part was because I truly believe children need to be able to occupy themselves.
Paul J. Donahue, Ph.D says that kids "benefit from learning how to extend and create their own fantasy play, sports and games. This enhances their self-reliance and self-confidence, and gives them a sense that they can initiate activities and can start to control their own destiny." So, when children play on their own, they are learning how to rely on themselves and not on others to entertain them.
Talk To Your Children About Everything
Seriously, parents: just talk to your kids. Many problems and issues can either be prevented and/or alleviated by simply talking to your kids. Show them you care about their thoughts and about their opinions. Let them know you will always be there to help should they need it, but also tell them that they should always find strength inside themselves.
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