As adults we experience a multitude of responsibilities and stresses, yet childhood isn’t always completely stress-free either! Children are under pressure to achieve in school (from a very early age), make new friends, change schools, fall outs with friends and sometimes family members, perhaps even the loss of someone close to them, unkind children taking the ‘mickey’ out of their new shoes because they don’t have some label that is over-priced anyway!
The main thing that helps our children navigate those experiences is resilience. Resilient kids tend to face a problem head on and look for a solution, if the first one doesn’t work they will find another way. Not only will they find another way but they will do it with a sense of confidence. Perhaps not alone, they may ask for help… this in itself is an act of courage, seeking support is a key factor of resilience.
I can recall countless times over the years that my own children have faced these types of challenges and the desperate battle in my head to resist jumping in to ‘save’ them. To instead be an observer, a coach and mentor all at the same time is hard! Especially when every fibre of your body wants to ‘fix’ it for them.
I often hear parents saying things like ‘I wish I could have that cold for them so they don’t have to feel ill’ I am pretty sure I have said it myself a few times, in reality it could be the immune system resilience they build from that cold that helps them fight the flu or infection later in life.
We, as parents, are often trying to stay one step ahead of everything our kids are going to experience, so that they don’t have to experience the struggles we may have faced.
The problem is life doesn’t work that way, and they are experiencing the world today in a very different way than we did as children. If I am an anxious parent, I am going to find it more difficult to help my children through uncertainty and uncertainty will come.
In my view, our role is not to problem solve for our children, but to help them problem solve for themselves, not to stop them from making mistakes, but to make sure they know what they learn’t from them so they can be more educated next time they are in that situation. It’s not to soften the fall but to be there to listen, and celebrate with them when they explain what they did to rise again. Resilient parents, raise resilient children.
A few suggestions for all you parents out there on a mission to raise resilient children:
- When they make a mistake, resist the temptation to let your ‘state’ change too much. Walk away for moment if you need to, take a few deep breathes. Your ability to maintain a ‘calm state’ is super important. Until you are able to maintain your state, your words may sting a little more than you intended. Only when you are able to be impeccable with your words are you really ready to return to the conversation.
- Instead of telling them what they ‘should’ have done, simply ask what they learned. These learnings will stay with them forever without the negative emotions associated with making mistakes – we are all human and if we really want our children to believe ‘it’s okay to talk’ then it’s important to show them, not just tell them.
- Create and offer them the space to make their own decisions, whether that’s a young child choosing what colour top they want to wear today or a teenager choosing what they would like to do when they leave school. Autonomy is our number one motivator!
- Encourage them to explore their feelings about different topics and if that feeling generates emotion for them allow space to let that feeling wave through. Resist the temptation to tell them ‘don’t cry’ or ‘stop being angry’. These statements tend to be more about our uncomfortableness with emotion than theirs. Like all other emotion it needs to be released, negative emotions will pass through quickly if you allow them the right of passage, and they do much less damage once the energy has passed through than being locked inside where it can darken, fester and harm.
- Make meditation time normal and welcome in the home. The benefits of mindfulness are neurologically proven to help us spot and sit away from negative thoughts, increase patience, reduce stress and anxiety amongst many other things. Perhaps it’s something you could do together?
- Show them a new lens – when someone treats them in a way they would prefer not to be treated it can have all sorts of unwelcome effects, from name calling to full on bullying to subtle digs about appearance or lifestyle. This can lead to thoughts of not being good enough, low self-esteem and anxiety. Asking questions like ‘what might be going on for that person’ or reminding them ‘their comments are not a reflection of who you are but of how that person feels’.
- Question their beliefs – from an early age you may notice children making statements such as ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I can’t do maths’, ‘I’m not as clever as them’. These are signs of limiting beliefs developing and if left unquestioned have the potential to grow and grow. By asking simple questions like, how do you know that’s true? Has there ever been a time when that’s not been true, or maybe a time when its neither true or untrue? Starts to shift this fixed belief to a more flexible one opening space for more positive belief system to develop.
For a child to feel safe to fall, they have to know adults will listen, really listen, not to judge, or share their version of events, to listen with the intent to understand what is truly being said.
There is no shame in children making mistakes or finding themselves in uncomfortable situations. It’s not those things that define us but what we learn from them. Learning to always tell the truth, share their anxieties, fears, and never be afraid to ask for help in the knowledge that you will not love them any less.