As noted elsewhere, resilience requires kids to be challenged. They need to be exposed to (age-appropriate) risky, adverse situations.
As parents, we typically believe we need to protect our kids from these situations. Unfortunately, when we do, we weaken our kids’ resilience. We limit their brain development. We weaken their immunity to stress. We stunt their confidence. We impair their ability to problem solve effectively.
If we jump in or let our kids avoid a situation, we rob kids the opportunity to be successful and realize they CAN cope. And reinforce the idea that they can’t. As a result, anxiety becomes ingrained and they continue to feel powerless and even helpless. In a nutshell, we debilitate them and make future challenges even harder for them to overcome. They will never learn to cope on their own and will always rely on us, or others (or form problematic habits) to cope in the future.
Now, we obviously want to avoid clearly dangerous situations where our kids can get seriously hurt. But, kids need to experience age-appropriate stress, failure, roadblocks, loss, rejection, and discomfort so they can learn that:
a) All of these things are temporary,
b) They can cope
c) They will get through it, and
d) They, and their situation, gets better on the other side.
When kids don’t have these experiences, they tend to break under pressure later on in life because they never learned the skills they need to cope in the first place. Because they have been sheltered. And, they never learn to value hard work and persistence to work through things. Therefore, allow kids to handle stress, to face their fears and worries head on, and to work through a challenging situation.
Lay the foundation
Before you do, it is important you have worked on previous steps. Your kids should now know that facing stress and challenging situations builds resilience. They should also know they have strengths that can help them in tough situations. Once they know what it takes to build resilience, they can start to move past their comfort zone to take (healthy) risks, deal with obstacles, and even face their fears.
Also remember the fact that heroes aren’t born on their own. They will still benefit from guidance and support, so be sure to be there for them if they do need to ask for (reasonable) help. And then don’t do it for them, be that mentor to coach them on. These are the conditions that help build resilience.
Find daily opportunities
If you look close enough, there are likely many daily opportunities to challenge your kids and let them get uncomfortable. Look for as many as you can. Let them answer their own questions. Or order their own meal at a restaurant. Or talk to their teacher about a late assignment. Or walk to school in the rain (actually, learning to cope in rain helps kids learn to manage obstacles). Or try a new game they will likely lose at (losing is a great way to learn to cope with setbacks and disappointment).
Also, let them figure out what will happen on their own. If they come to you with a problem, whether it is a fight with a sibling, a broken toy, feeling left out with friends, or a missed assignment; avoid jumping in to solve it for them or giving advice.
When faced with a challenge, as your kids open ended questions about how they can figure it out and who might be able to help. Have them brainstorm different ideas and evaluate the pros and cons of each idea. Have them carry out their final decision and later evaluate it to see what worked and what they could do differently next time.
If they forget their lunch, let them figure out what they will do. Avoid running it to them – they will never learn. What if they can’t reach you anyway? Have them problem solve. And, if they have to miss lunch one day, it won’t be the end of the world. But, it will likely increase the chance of them remembering their lunch tomorrow.
You can also use everyday problems you run into. For example, if you are going to make your own pizzas but don’t have pizza crust, rather than changing your plan or going to the store, have your kids come up with other ideas of what you can use for the crust.
Through this process, kids learn critical skills to help them cope effectively rather than becoming overwhelmed. They also learn that you trust them to be the boss of making decisions in their lives and that they can actually manage tough situations. Things our kids needs lots of opportunities for to build resilience and confidence.
Be sure to add to their strengths board whenever they make an attempt!
Going one step further, create opportunities to challenge your kids. Be sure the challenge stretches them – if it is too easy, they will get bored and not learn anything at all. If it is too hard though, they might give up.
At my house I do a few different things. One is giving my kids riddles that can take days and even weeks to solve. This is perseverance at it’s best. I never give hints. They can only ask yes or no questions. I do help them learn to summarize everything they have learned so far and I encourage them when they try different strategies. From these riddles, my kids learn to work together, they learn to ask for help in a purposeful way, and they learn that they can eventually get it if they persist and ask things in different ways (versus giving up and having someone else just give it to them).
We also have a bravery jar. In it are dozens of little pieces of paper with different things my kids can do to stretch beyond their comfort zones. Every day they pick a paper from the jar and focus on accomplishing whatever is written on it. Examples include complimenting someone at school they don’t really know. Asking a question in class. Taking on a new chore. Using a hammer on their own. Walking to school by themselves. Running into the corner store to get their own chocolate bar.
Free play is a great way to build resilience. Allow your kids to fill their own time. You can even give them a box of tools (anything from blank paper right up to a real hammer and nails) and see what they can come up with. Encourage them to engage in creative play activities that promotes problem solving and creativity, such as figuring out how to save you from the pirate’s trap. Have your kid create their own comic strips. You are only limited by your own creativity!
Move to # 11: Boost Independence