If you're new to this series, you'll want to go back and read the previous posts leading to this one:
Raising Resilience: How to Help Our Kids Become Adults Who Can Cope (Intro)
Raising Resilience: Why Our Kids Are Less Resilient Than Ever (Part 1)
Raising Resilience: Parenting Self-Awareness Exercises (Part 2)
Through this series, you've learned a bit about what's getting in the way of us raising kids who have a wealth of coping skills as adults, and you've done some self-reflection to help you dive deeper into how you relate to this topic and where you lean in your own parenting tendencies. Now let's begin to explore what we can do about it.
What are the practical tips you can take with you on your parenting journey to help you raise kids who are able to take on struggles and turn them into lifelong coping skills?
A few notes before we get into the list:
You know your child best. Some kids may have specific or special needs that would make some of the suggestions below impossible, impractical, or perhaps even contraindicated to their unique needs. Follow your parenting instincts about which of these tips you can implement today, tomorrow, or in a year, and which you'll tuck in your back pocket for "maybe someday", and which you'll totally toss. Trust your gut.
This is guide is a combination of recommendations that have all been shown to help foster kids who will have fortitude, independence, strong values, and a skill set to help them persevere no matter what life throws at them.
Top Tips for Raising a Resilient Kid:
1. Back off. Allow unscheduled, unstructured, self-directed, unsupervised play whenever possible.
2. When emotional difficulties arise, notice and fight against your automatic response to step in.
3. Don't fix it! Our kids actually want us to listen, be there, and support them, not solve.
4. Teach kids to feel the emotions that come from failure. To do this, first, allow the struggle. Then name the struggle. Be a steady support, and help them guide themselves to their own resolution.
5. Normalize their experiences: our kids see us as perfect. They only see where we’ve arrived today, they don’t see everything that came before it. When it’s appropriate, share own struggles, then let them know you worked to
resolve it, or how you still plan to. Remember the self-reflection exercise from the last post? Those memories that came up for you are the perfect stories to share when the time is right and the situation appropriate.
6. Help your kids think through questions and challenges themselves. To do this, ask them why five times in a row, or ask them "why? how? what now?" In general, open ended questions (those that can't be answered with "yes" or "no") are always preferable to close ended questions (those that can be answered with "yes" or "no").
7. Have family dinner. If you’re not having family dinner, try to. And if you are, then make family dinner do its work. Have it as often as possible, and use your above conversational and supportive skills during dinner. Research shows that across the board, kids who have family dinner are more stable, successful, do better in school, have lower rates of drug and alcohol use and abuse, and have better lifelong relationships.
8. As soon as your child is ready, have him or her begin to do things for themselves. Chores should be for the sake of having responsibilities and them seeing the results of their own, not for monetary or other reward. Let go of the idea that what they do will be perfect. You will almost always be able to do it better, but if you do it yourself, they'll never develop self-agency and intrinsic motivation.
9. Practice and repeat life-long:
a. Can my child do this for themselves? If they can, step away and allow them to do it.
b. Can my child almost do this for themselves? If they can almost, then step back and let them work through it.
c. Am I doing this for my benefit, or for my child's benefit? We hold loads of guilt and expectations as parents; we also often do what’s just easiest for ourselves. But ask yourself this essential question, and also ask yourself if it’s what your kid would really want.
10. If you must help, help them in the essential work of figuring things out for themselves. Doing this reinforces the essential belief we want to instill in our children that they are capable without you. Doing this has been shown to decrease odds of depression, anxiety, cutting and suicide in youth.
11. Send consistent message of: (authoritarian parenting style, which is a mix of warmth and high expectation)
a. Unconditional love and belonging ("I love you because"; "I love you, and I don’t love your behavior right now," "I love and accept you for who you are (you belong in this family". This is far different from unconditional praise, which sounds like, "good job!" and "you're amazing." and "you did so great!"
b. High expectation: Set the bar for your kids just slightly higher than their current ability; kids thrive at the slight challenge. Again, don't expect perfect. Do expect effort.
c. Belief in their capability: to resolve, solve, and succeed in the things they care about with work and effort.
I hope you've picked up something useful and/or thought provoking from this list. If you come away with nothing else, I'd like to impart these final words to remember as you parent (and remember, just like our kids aren't perfect and shouldn't be expected to be, neither are we. We are all doing and trying our best every single day with what we have at the moment. And sometimes, we don't try our best, and we know when that happens too and it feels like crud. So be kind to yourself, remember that you're doing an amazing thing by loving and being a steady source of support for your child, no matter how you do that):
When you're tempted to fix your kid's problems, no matter how small or how large (little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems is how someone once described it to me, and they were right!), pause! Pause enough to reconsider and give them space to sort through the challenge themselves.
Listen first. Then reflect back what you think you've heard and understand. Ask them for confirmation or for a revision. Then ask them to tell you what they need from you.
Allow your child to direct themselves. Give them the space and enough self-direction to show themselves to you. With their own lead, they'll find the things they are most passionate about and will be most successful in because that is where they will want to put in the effort.
View your child's challenges as opportunities and gifts. When you are faced with those difficult emotions or experiences, step back and view them as the essential ingredient in helping your child grow.
Model what you want to see. I can't stress this one enough. Identify your family values, talk about your family values, and live your family values. Let your kids know early, then stay consistent, with how you treat others, how you talk to others and each other, and what you hold dear to your heart. Give them guiding values, and you give them a roadmap for the world.
This last one also goes for seemingly innocuous things, like how much we're buried in our phones or distracted with or stressed out by work. Let's put our phones down. Let's make eye contact. Let's leave work at work while we do dinner and. bedtime. Let's show our kids we can smile, breathe, and experience joy. This is how they will learn and trust that they, too, can smile, breathe and experience joy.
We can't fool ourselves that withstanding our child's challenges or pain will be easy. It will be HARD. It will break our heart. And we will n need to fight against the urge to make it better. This practice will help us to raise children who are resilient, and who have the skill, ability, and self-confidence to cope as adults... and, daresay, be both happy and successful (!).
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, and call (860) 339-6515 to schedule your free initial consultation.