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The Secret of Raising a Resilient Child

"Where does resilience come from?....It comes from knowing that you never have to be alone….If you feel connected, you will always be able to deal with adversity.  The skills we need to deal with adversity begin with a feeling of 'I can handle this.'  It is a feeling of 'No matter what happens, I can find a solution'; a feeling of 'I have dealt with hard times and come out fine before'; a feeling of 'Even when I feel lost, I always have somewhere to turn.'” – Dr. Edward Hallowell

Life is full of hard knocks.  What makes some people get up the next morning determined to try again, while others give up?  Resilience.

There's a common misconception that children develop resilience by failing. Actually, children develop resilience by dealing successfully with failure.

When children have the support to get up and try again, they learn they can survive adversity and come out okay.  When a child doesn't have that support, all he learns from failing is that he's the kind of person who fails.

So what kind of support can help your child turn failure into the confidence that no matter what happens, she can handle it? 

1. Your care and understanding. The security of knowing that someone is watching out for him is what allows a child to explore, to risk bumps, disappointment and hurt feelings, and to come out the other side. So don't try to talk her out of her feelings when she doesn't get the part in the play. Instead, empathize with her disappointment and honor her grief. With your support, she'll feel those big emotions and move past them, instead of freezing them inside, which locks in that feeling of failure. She learns from experience that she can tolerate any emotion she feels and come out the other side, and the sun will come up the next day. 

2. The experience of solving problems. Manage your own anxiety so you don't make a habit of rescuing your child. Instead, when she gets into a jam, support her in brainstorming possible solutions. If you lecture, teach or solve the problem for her, you're teaching her that she can't solve things herself. Your goal isn't just to solve the problem, but to support your child to feel more capable by giving backup so that she can successfully handle the challenge.

3. Emotional regulation. When kids feel overwhelmed by their emotions, they crumble. By contrast, kids who have better emotional regulation can tolerate the disappointment of losing, or the frustration of practicing as they master their craft. They're more likely to apply themselves, and to overcome setbacks. How can you help your child develop emotional regulation? Accept and allow all emotions, even when you need to limit behavior. 

4. The experience of mastery. Developing grit--that quality of pushing through obstacles as we pursue something about which we're passionate--depends on the child working hard to accomplish her own goals, whether that's mastering a jump shot, short story, recipe or camping trip.  Notice that the motivation comes from within, not to please us, so it has to be the child's own interest. Make sure that your child gets plenty of time to initiate and pursue his own passions, which isn't always easy in this age of homework and screen time.

Knowing that someone cares, and is there to help him pick up the pieces, is the foundation of resilience. You can't protect your child from the rain that falls in every life. What you can do is make sure that he knows how to find an umbrella, and has the confidence to make it through the storm. To teach him that, you don't withhold the umbrella and make him stand out in the rain. You provide backup, coaching him repeatedly so he learns how to find or build an umbrella and has the emotional strength to do that, even when the rain pours down.

Now's the time to start practicing. Some day, your child will look back and remember that he's dealt with hard times before, and he came out fine. It's your unwavering love that will get him there.


Photo Credit: Thank you to Crushed Red Pepper.

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