How do I help my kids be resilient?

Posted by Samantha on January 21, 2012 in Feelings, Resilience |

Resilience is the word psychologists use to talk about the ability to get back up after you’ve been knocked down and keep going.  I think of it as a kind of psychological strength.

It’s been found to be a key indicator of who will thrive rather than falter following difficult or traumatic experiences.

I think most parents want their children to be resilient – even if they wouldn’t use that word.  I think we put a lot of effort into our attempts to generate this helpful quality in our children.

My parents certainly wanted me to take things in my stride.  They didn’t want me to get upset about little (or large!) playground woes.  Because they wanted me to be strong psychologically, they didn’t want to see that I was upset by certain interactions with them, or with teachers, or with my siblings.  They didn’t want to recognise my jealousy.  So much so that I buried it deep underground and today can only recognise it as that twinge I get when I hear my mother is visiting my sister but not me.

And so, with the positive intention of helping me to cope with life’s little ups and downs, my parents set about minimising, dismissing and denying the reality of my pain.

You know how minimising, dismissing and denying sounds:

“oh don’t be so silly”,

“it’s only a little bump”,

“what did you do to deserve it?”,

“well your teacher’s right, you should have done your homework”,

“don’t cry, you’re ok”,

“there’s nothing the matter with you”,

“I’ll give you something to cry about”

“you can’t be too hot / too cold / hungry”

These and dozens of other phrases like them are how we cut our children off from their feelings and teach them not to trust themselves.  They also have an unhelpful impact on our relationship with them.

And, this is the rub, they do not make children resilient.  Freezing our children’s feelings is NOT THE SAME as teaching them how to handle their feelings.

We especially want this quality of resilience for our boys.  I know 4-year-old boys who think crying is for sissies rather than something normal that we all do when we’re upset (unless we’ve learned to override it).  The act of crying discharges our emotion and allows us get on with life.  In other words, crying can help us become resilient!

It’s not always easy to accept our children in ALL their emotions.  Many parents for example find it difficult to believe jealousy between siblings exists.  They unwittingly foster it because they cannot accept that it is normal and to be expected.  They might punish the behaviour that it prompts, which only makes it worse.  Or they may force it underground which only seems like a better solution.

It is an enormous challenge for us as parents to learn to accept our children’s emotional reality.  The key to doing it really successfully is to learn how to accept our own emotions as well.

If we rise to this challenge we will give our children an incredible gift: the gift of emotional resilience.

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