Resilience – the key to bringing up kids who bounce back when life knocks them down
What do you want for your child as they grow up? A world-class swimming time? A scholarship to their next school? A degree in a frame and a corner office? These days much of society measures personal success by way of achievements gained, and the ripple effect reaches parenting circles even before kids leave primary school.
The chances are, all you really want is for them to be happy. It’s a simple wish. But it’s easy to lose sight of this basic desire and get caught up in the pressure to ‘do’ and ‘be’ your best all the time, and pass that expectation on to your children. Previous misguided parenting strategies have resulted in a generation – millennials – who struggle with many aspects of life in general. According to motivational speaker and author Simon Sinek, “Too many of them grew up subject to failed parenting strategies where, for example, they were told that they were special – all the time. They were told they could have anything they want in life – just because they want it. They’re thrust into the real world and in an instant they find out they’re not special, their mums can’t get them a promotion, and you can’t have it just because you want it. Their self image is shattered and you have an entire generation growing up with lower self-esteem – through no fault of their own.”
Parents enjoy praising their children and that still has its place, but how you praise is critical. According to Alicia Drummond, counsellor and parenting coach, we should, “Attach the praise to the action not the child. Our children are heavily invested in our expectations so to motivate them you should focus on what they get right.” Alicia refers to these remarks as ‘positive strokes’. For example, “You hung your coat up without me asking, that’s really helpful” – in that way you are noticing what they got right and rewarding that by commenting on it, but you are not labelling your child. If you label your child as being, in this case, helpful, they will feel inadequate when they are not being helpful. “By pointing out the abilities they have, they can put those in their metaphorical backpack and remind themselves what they are capable of,” Alicia says. “They don’t always have to be helpful – they haven’t been pigeon-holed as the helpful one – but they know they can do it because they’ve done it.”
This backpack full of abilities and qualities gives them the core sense that ‘I’m OK’. It’s an approach which helps mould a more resilient child who is not afraid of failure, of learning from mistakes and moving forward. Alicia believes we can help arm our children by relinquishing control. “If a child has lost their jumper at school and is upset, it’s tempting as a parent to go straight in and start looking for it. But all that tells the child is, ‘I don’t think you can do this’. We rescue our kids, so they have no experience of knowing if they can cope when things don’t go to plan. Let them go in and ask the cleaner or classroom assistant if they’ve seen their jumper.”
Replanning the journey when things don’t work out first time requires patience and perseverance, and encouraging certain activities can help develop these soft skills. Horse riding, for example, involves taking risks, being responsible for your horse, coping with failure and huge resilience – if you fall off that horse, you will need to get back on it. Similarly, martial arts requires discipline, working with others and picking yourself up. “Understanding the journey to both winning and losing gives a child information to move forward, it teaches patience, to keep going and bounce back from adversity,” says Alicia.
What lies ahead for our children? That we cannot predict. But as parents we can strive to be their role models through demonstrating perseverance, belief in ourselves, by making mistakes and dealing with them intelligently. Pop those life skills in their backpack and they’ll enjoy life’s journey, whatever they do.
Tips & tricks
• From newborn to two years old, they are physically exploring. Let them take controlled risks, for example, climbing over furniture, pulling pans out of the cupboard, and let them fail and find a new way.
• If your child is working on a puzzle and they complete it easily, give them a more challenging one. If they struggle, tell them, “You haven’t failed, we just need to replan how you’re going to finish it.” However many tries it takes, tell them you believe they will do it.
• If during homework your child says, “I can’t do it!”, reply, “You can’t do it yet.” Try to understand why they think they can’t – are they scared they’ll get it wrong or won’t be able to finish? Break down the journey into more manageable chunks.
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