Teaching your kids to see challenges from another perspective can help them grow.
Giving our children the tools in order to endure life’s inevitable hardships seems more important than ever. In the scope of vital qualities, resilience ranks near the top as a way to ensure happiness even in the direst of times.
Resilience doesn’t necessarily mean “always looking on the bright side,” in fact it often entails the opposite. When it comes to children, it means letting them experience the ebb and flow of emotion. It means letting them understand that sadness, stress, anxiety, fear and frustration are a normal part of being human – but that it doesn’t define us or dictate our behavior.
Resilience doesn’t magically appear over time, it’s the result of careful consideration. Here are just a few ways we can help jumpstart resilience in our children at home.
Emotional intelligence: The power of noticing goes a long way, especially with children. For example, spelling is often a key source of frustration for my younger son. Parents all over the globe probably know these universal signs of frustration: hood up, head down, no eye contact. In this scenario, the power of noticing might go something like this: “I’m noticing your body language right now. To me it looks like you might be really frustrated.”
Often our children don’t have the vocabulary to express the big emotions they’re feeling. We can supply them with that language, and in turn, social-emotional intelligence, by using “noticing” statements. At first, they may respond with a shrug or a grunt. But you will have started a valuable conversation about the importance of emotional intelligence and self-regulation.
Freeplay: In the book “The Danish Way of Parenting,” Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl write about the importance of play in building resilient humans and how it enables our children to simulate fight or flight responses. In return, children gain stronger social-emotional intelligence and coping skills. For example, when our children are free to engage in unstructured play, they begin to test their own boundaries and learn how much stress they’re able to withstand.
Empathy is everything: Empathy starts with parents. Modeling it, framing conversations around it, and using the language of compassion helps our children empathize, both with others and themselves. A child’s problems are often seen as trivial. A squabble with a sibling or a conflict on the playground might seem trivial an adult. But we minimize childhood and adolescent struggles at our own risk. When we approach their world with empathy, we provide them with a roadmap for future relationships.
Neuroplasticity and growth mindset: Throw a figurative dart at the internet and you’ll find journals, podcasts and books, all focused on the growth mindset for kids. That’s because “the power of yet” is a formidable tool against self-doubt. Reframing a negative situation and taking on a different mindset, lets our brain begin to redirect neural pathways. Reinterpreting a stressful event into something that your child hasn’t mastered yet is a resilience-building power tool. Children are no strangers to tantrums and these sudden bursts of emotion can often trigger parents into reacting before thinking. However, communicating empathy, and shifting their frustration towards healthy coping skills helps forge new neural pathways. These aren’t molded overnight, though. It can often take many tries before the new coping strategies take hold, but the results are well worth the efforts. Tears over math homework and negative self-talk turn into, “I’m not bad at this, I just don’t know it yet.”
Praise the process: When children place their value in arbitrarily defined success, it is only a matter of time before they face a challenge and begin to spiral into self-doubt. A bright child in elementary school might cruise through simple subtraction, then struggle to understand the concept of a fraction.
Praising children for their intelligence doesn’t create confidence. In fact, it can hinder the resilience-building process by creating vulnerable, fixed-mindset kids who only find self-worth by trying to live up someone else’s definition of “smart.” Instead of praising traits, try what has been described as productive or process praise. Praising vulnerability, risk-taking, focus, tenacity, and improvement, helps instill motivation in our children rather than placing them under pressure to keep performing at a high level all the time.
Alex Hobbs, based in Irrigon, is a former educator turned full-time homeschooling mother of two boys, age 8 and 10.