Resiliency is very much on the parenting radar these days, and a lot of research has gone into discovering what it is that makes some children and adults more resilient than others. Resiliency is that ability to deal with the ups and downs of life, to solve problems rather than being overwhelmed by them, having a high self-confidence, a sense of optimism. It’s about running your life well.
How do get there? What the research shows is that resilient kids have a strong social connection, they are not shy about asking others for help. This comes from parents who were in their corner and steady source of love and support, and encouraged them to reach out to others. They also learned the skills of problem solving – breaking bigger problems down into smaller ones, taking action, realizing what and what you cannot control. It’s about learning responsibility by taking on responsibilities and being able to regulate your emotions – tolerating frustration and anxiety in healthy ways, managing anger. Finally resilience comes from taking acceptable risks, being okay making mistakes, avoiding the trap of perfectionism – these build self confidence and self esteem.
As parents this all translates down into giving your children love and support, but being careful not to be micromanaging, helicopter, over-protective – these remove the risk, responsibility and opportunities for skill development and self regulation. And because you are a parent and a role model, like it or not, your biggest challenge is likely to be that you need to do your best to demonstrate all these qualities and skills. A tall order.
Here are a few ideas about applying this to different age groups.
Toddlers: The goal with the youngest children is setting a foundation of safety. Your biggest impact at this age is in terms of modeling, rather than instruction. It is during these years that your child learns that adults can be not only trusted, but approachable and source of support. Children who have angry or neglectful parents develop a I-take-care-of-me mentality, leaving them to struggle alone with life. This is also a good time to begin working on frustration tolerance – giving your child opportunities to learn to self sooth – as well as teaching responsibility such as helping to pick up toys, saying sorry when hitting a playmate. Finally there are opportunities for decision making – even as giving your toddler a choice about breakfast and him learning to live with the consequences.
Elementary age: With language and larger world comes increased opportunities for all the above – more independence whether it is sleep-overs, being at the playground without constant supervisions, more responsibility in the form of chores. Here you provide risk-taking in the form of encouraging your shy child to join a soccer team, and development of emotional regulation when she is upset when she doesn’t get to play. Now you can start teaching problem solving – how to approach big science project, how to share the computer with a sib – and increased decision making – what color to paint your bedroom, who to invite to a birthday party. Finally as your child’s natural strengths and skills emerge – Tom is great in art, Allison in math – you want to encourage and support the attributes.
Middle School: As your child moves away from you into the larger social world, this is where that strong relationship that you have been building over the years begins to pay off. Middle school is rift with social anxiety of in / out groups, hormones, bullying, feeling different. You want to be an emotional support, a coach in problem-solving; you want to encourage and help your child hold on to his own identity, as fragile as it may be, in the face of peer pressure. The home, albeit often emotionally / hormonally charged, needs also to be a place of safety and sanity.
High School: If you’ve done the right stuff, your high schooler is moving into her own world. Responsibilities go up – the summer job, managing school work – as do decisions – dating, post high school plans. You want to notice and reward good decision-making and problem-solving, and be the sideline coach ready to step in when their feeling overwhelmed or uncertain. In preparation for moving away, this is a good time to encourage your teen to reach out to other adults for help – the teacher, the guidance counselor, the kind uncle. Taking acceptable risks are still important but obviously your job is help your teen sort out the sane from the insane. Finally this is a good time to help your teen understand the adult world and mind – not in the form of lectures and rants, but intimate and sincere self-disclosure about your own challenges and the way you’ve overcome them.
Again, a challenge, a mix of skills, a need to shift focus at different stages, but you usually have plenty of time and wiggle room for mistakes and Plan Bs.
So did we mention being a role model?