7 Lessons for Raising Resilient Children
Simple Guidelines for Preparing the Next Generation for Happiness and Success
Posted Aug 27, 2018
While there is much to celebrate about the era within which we live, there is reason for concern, as well. We live in a challenging time wherein polarization and exclusion punctuated with anger, hatred, and intolerance seems more evident than in the last 50 years. This reality portends a difficult road ahead, not just for ourselves, but for future generations, unless we act. Most parents want something better for their children and grandchildren. So how can we ensure their world will be a better place, a world of acceptance, tolerance, mutual respect and support? The short answer is we can’t make assurances for the future of others, but we can begin to prepare future generations to build a better world tomorrow by initially teaching them how to become resilient in the face of adversity today. Pericles once said. “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."
Over the last 40 years, scholars and clinicians alike who have investigated human resilience, best defined as the ability to rebound from adversity, have consistently reached a similar conclusion. It is a conclusion that in many ways should be self-evident. The best predictors of resilience are 1) optimism and the belief in oneself, and 2) social cohesion and interpersonal support. It is not necessarily DNA. So there is good news in this conclusion. The good news is resilience can be fostered and even taught (Everly, 2008). Canadian playwrite Christopher Earle once penned, “Time grants a unique perspective which allows us to see events through a filter of accumulated wisdom.” Here are seven lessons from the past designed to help our children build a better future by becoming more resilient today.
Lesson #1: There are two types of people, those who contribute and those who detract. We must teach our children the best way to build a life of happiness and success is through their own achievements and by contributing to the betterment of others, not by attacking the achievements of others or passively expecting good things to happen.
Lesson #2: We must teach children to be optimists and to believe in their ability to make a difference. According to noted psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman, science has taught us that individuals who devalue themselves and their actions ensure failure. The opposite is true as well. If one believes in oneself and one’s ability to make a difference, the probability of success will be greatly increased. Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted, “The measure of mental health is the disposition to find good everywhere.” So children should learn to be humble in success, gracious in defeat, and in all things be fair.
Lesson #3: Being one who seeks achievement and who contributes to the betterment of others is not always easy. In the words of President John Kennedy, “Only those who dare to fail greatly will ever achieve greatly.” We must teach our children that anything worth having is worth failing for.
Lesson #4: So what is failure? We must teach our children that failure is not defined by a lack of achievement. Failure is defined by the lack of effort or the refusal to try. Life is full of difficult decisions. We must teach our children that when faced with a difficult decision, they should make the best decision they can given the information they have at the time…then let it go. The moment of absolute certainty will never arrive. And whether the decision turns out well or not, the decision can teach powerful lessons for those prepared to listen. Maya Angelou argued, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." To paraphrase the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, what does not destroy you will make you stronger.
Lesson #5: We must teach our children that their lives will be less complex and their legacies enduring if they live a life of integrity. Better to fail with honor than succeed by fraud Sophocles once proclaimed. If they live lives of integrity, when they look back, the reflection will be something they can enjoy endlessly. Children should learn to make a promise to never do anything that will dishonor themselves, their friends, or their family.
Lesson #6: We must teach our children to take responsibility for their actions. They must learn that mistakes and failures are what they’ve done, it’s not who they are. But when taking responsibility, remember the words of Homer Simpson, “You can't keep blaming yourself. Just blame yourself once, and move on.” Hopefully they will learn something in the process. Carpe diem is the Latin phrase for “seize the day.” Perhaps it should be carpe vita, “seize life.” And one does that by accepting responsibility for one’s actions.
Lesson #7: According to the Roman philosopher Cicero, friendship enhances prosperity and divides adversity. Friendship means assisting others in times of need and expecting nothing in return. Friendship means giving that which is difficult to give and to do so without resentment nor regret. Friendship is fostered by treating others the way they want to be treated, not by treating them the way you want to be treated (Everly, Brelesky, & Everly, 2018). This is not always easy as it requires taking the perspective of others. When cultivating friendships and the support of others, first and foremost, we must teach our children to treat others with respect and compassion.
In closing, if there was one thought I would leave with my children and grandchildren, it is that which is borrowed from A. A. Milne as his Christopher Robin speaks to Winnie the Pooh, "Promise me you will always remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
(c) George S. Everly, Jr., PhD, 2018.
Everly, G.S., Jr. (2008). Resilient Child. NY: DiaMedica.
Everly, G.S., Jr., Breslesky, G., & Everly, A.N. (2018). Rodney Rabbit Makes a Friend: Fostering Resilience and Social Intelligence. RSI Press. Distributed by Bookbaby, Book Store.